The ongoing drama at the Dragons continues to unfold, but amidst the chaos, there is still hope for their future. Two players that have caught my attention are Tyrell Sloan and Jayden Sullivan, whom I had the pleasure of spending some time with after a recent game in Queensland. These two young talents hold the key to the Dragons‘ success, and I believe they have the potential to become top-level players. During our conversation, it became evident that Sullivan possesses a remarkable right foot step, and I was eager to understand Sloan’s mindset when playing alongside him. I wanted to explore how they could work together to break down defensive lines and provide the necessary support. It was enlightening to gain insight into their strategic thinking and playing styles.
Looking at the current NRL player market, it’s clear that high-quality halves and fullbacks are in short supply. Therefore, it is imperative for the Dragons to invest their focus and resources into nurturing Sloan and Sullivan as they represent the future of the club. They must commit wholeheartedly to these promising young players to ensure the team’s long-term success.
However, despite the potential of these two players, the Dragons face an uphill battle in their upcoming clash against the Sharks on Thursday night. With yet another week of controversy surrounding star player Ben Hunt, it will be challenging for the team to maintain their focus and perform at their best. The Warriors exposed the Dragons‘ vulnerabilities last week by putting 48 points on them, albeit with some lackluster defensive efforts from the Dragons. It remains to be seen how Hunt will cope with the surrounding distractions, particularly the scrutiny he may face on social media. These outside pressures have a way of impacting players, and it could affect his performance on the field.
The Sharks, despite their inconsistent home form this year, have displayed moments of brilliance mixed with concerning lapses. While they convincingly defeated the Bulldogs a couple of weeks ago, their losses to the Broncos and Warriors after holding substantial first-half leads raise some red flags. Nonetheless, the Sharks have secured the services of Teig Wilton for an extended period, which is a positive move considering his exceptional line running abilities. Alongside Briton Nikora, the Sharks possess two of the NRL‘s best line runners on an edge. Additionally, Nicho Hynes, an electric player, is likely to put on a show against the Dragons. I anticipate a drop in intensity from St George Illawarra after the initial 20-25 minutes, allowing the Sharks to capitalize on their opportunities.
The individual battles between Hynes and Hunt, as well as Siosifa Talakai against Zac Lomax, promise to be intriguing matchups. However, based on current form, it seems unlikely that the Dragons will emerge victorious. My prediction is a comfortable win for the Sharks, with a margin of 24 points. Ronaldo Mulitalo is my pick for the first try-scorer, and I believe Nicho Hynes will deliver a standout performance, earning him the Man of the Match accolade.
Shifting our focus to another team, I recall my coverage of a Cowboys game at Kogarah last year when Phil Gould expressed his admiration for Jeremiah Nanai. Gould suggested that Nanai could be the best forward to play in the NRL era, and although I was initially taken aback by his statement, the more I watch Nanai in action, the more I believe Gould might be right. Nanai possesses incredible athleticism for someone of his size, and he complements it with an impressive work rate.
In recent weeks, the Cowboys have showcased their ability to exploit defensive weaknesses by utilizing their back-rowers effectively. Prior to his injury, Heilum Luki was establishing himself as one of the competition’s top forwards. Alongside Luciano Leilua and rookie Kulikefu Finefeuiaki, the Cowboys boast the best back row in the NRL. Their expertise lies in isolating the opposition’s halfback or five-eighth through strategic maneuvering, creating gaps in the defensive line. This tactic has proven to be a potent weapon for North Queensland and sets them apart from many other teams in the league.
Although they had a slow start to the season, if the Cowboys manage to embark on a winning streak and secure a position in the top four, they could emerge as serious contenders for the NRL title. Their upcoming matches against the Broncos, Sharks, Dolphins, and Panthers will provide a crucial assessment of their true potential and determine their chances of success in the competition.
I must acknowledge the exceptional work of Andrew Webster, the head coach of the Warriors, who has undoubtedly earned himself the title of Dally M Coach of the Year. The transformation he has achieved with the Warriors this season is nothing short of remarkable. The NRL needs a strong New Zealand side, and the Warriors have captivated audiences with their performances on the field.
One key aspect of the Warriors‘ success this year has been their adoption of a short passing game, which disrupts opposition defences and forces them out of their comfort zones. This tactical approach speaks volumes about the coaching prowess behind the team. Additionally, Addin Fonua-Blake has emerged as one of the top three props in the world with his agility, offloading abilities, and ability to play extended minutes. What sets Fonua-Blake apart this season is his improved discipline, as he has significantly reduced the number of unnecessary penalties he concedes.
Furthermore, Shaun Johnson has experienced a resurgence this year, showcasing traits not commonly associated with him in the past – conservatism and toughness. Johnson has demonstrated better decision-making, knowing when to unleash his attacking brilliance while also being willing to take hits for the benefit of the team. His leadership has been a shining example for the Warriors, and it is evident that he has played a crucial role in their success thus far.
As the season progresses, it is possible that a dark horse emerges from the competitive field to claim the NRL title. It would be unwise to underestimate the Warriors, as they are well-positioned to challenge the league’s heavyweights and potentially secure a fairy-tale ending to their campaign.