Five Things: Johnson injury ends Warriors top eight hopes

Like any decent armchair critic, we like to take apart that week that was. Trawling through the video, analysing the stats – it’s our opportunity to hold the players accountable and pretend we run the game.

Here’s the top five takeaways take from the NRL weekend:

Johnson injury spells doom for Warriors

The Warriors were always going to struggle to make the top eight after the start they’ve had. Their attitude, fitness and application are simply too below par to compete against others in the competition.

However, a late burst is never out of the equation for the unpredictable New Zealand team. But with Shaun Johnson’s season ending injury, his second in three years, any hopes of such a run have now been extinguished.

Johnson went down with a knee injury late in the first half and eventually made way 18 minutes into the second. And while the Warriors haven’t disclosed its severity, the silence does little to assuage worries.

With Foran and Hingano in the halves, we can’t see the Warriors making the eight. Remember 2015? A Johnson injury resulted in the Warriors losing their last seven games without him.

Ball boy becomes a man

We’re not sure what the conversion rate of ball boy to professional athlete is. To hazard a guess it would be awfully low. Ball boys aren’t exactly selected on raw talent, and once life and liquor get in the way, we suspect very few make it to the big leagues.

One that has made it is former Mt Smart Stadium ball boy, Nathan Clearly.

Formerly fetching balls for the Warriors while his dad, Ivan, was coaching the side, Cleary turned the tables on Friday night with a virtuoso performance that resulted in a comfortable victory for his side.

Clearly had three tries, two more try assists, two line breaks, and five tackle busts. In total, he scored 22 of the Panthers’ 34 points and led his team admirably in the absence of Matt Moylan and Trent Merrin.

At just 19 years of age, Cleary has the rugby league world at his feet and is an outside possibility to play 7 for the NSW blues in Origin next year.

Knights and Tigers oh my!

Shock prediction coming up. The Knights and the Tigers will make the top eight next year. A huge call given the depth in the NRL and the (only) six games the teams have won this year between them.

However, we’ve seen enough over the last couple of weeks to wager on both teams improving enough by next year. This weekend saw both team give their opponents scares – a horrible and patronising term for teams that hold and then give up leads.

The Knights, pushed the Broncos most of the way, before silly mistakes gave the game, and two points away, while the Tigers looked the goods against the Sea-Eagles for a long time before ultimately succumbing to the class of Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom Trbojevic.

That gulf in class will be bridged by the 2018 signings of both teams – any bookmaker odds on that? And with the Titans beating the reigning premiers this week, the top eight could be vastly different next year.

Taylor, Queensland’s incumbent half-back

Ash Taylor’s attacking display against the Sharks is a sure sign that the loss of both Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston won’t be fatal for the Queensland Reds.

After a couple of quiet weeks, Taylor exploded back into form by running rings around the Sharks tiring forwards, and adding in his usual accurate kicking game. The performance, helped seal a 30-10 win and included two tries, two assists and a line break assist.

With Munster debuting strongly, Anthony Milford on the fringes and now Taylor, Queensland will be fine when it comes time to replacing the gods next year.

Taking a guess at the 2018 Origin sides

Now that Origin has concluded for another year, it’s time to make wild predictions about how the teams could shape up next year. Wild because, who knows what type of form these players will be in, or even if they’ll be injury-free. Regardless, it’s a fun exercise, even if only for scratching Jarryd Hayne.

NSW – 1. James Tedesco, 2. Tom Trbojevic, 3. Josh Dugan, 4. James Roberts, 5. Josh Mansour, 6. Matt Moylan, 7. James Maloney, 8. David Klemmer, 9. Nathan Peats, 10. Andrew Fifita, 11. Boyd Cordner ©, 12. Josh Jackson, 13. Jake Trbojevic, 14. Nathan Cleary, 15. Tyson Frizell, 16. Jack de Belin, 17. Paul Vaughan

Queensland – 1. Darius Boyd, 2. Valentine Holmes, 3. Will Chambers, 4. Dane Gagai, 5. Kalyn Ponga, 6. Cameron Munster, 7. Ash Taylor, 8. Matt Scott, 9. Cameron Smith ©, 10. Dylan Napa, 11. Gavin Cooper, 12. Matt Gillett, 13. Josh McGuire, 14. Michael Morgan, 15. Josh Papalii, 16. Cohen Hess, 17. Jarrod Wallace

For more on this week’s NRL action, check out our report on how the English players in the competition fared. You can also find a full list of results here.

4 Comments

  1. Nathan Cleary was amazing for the Panthers this week. He had one of those games where everything came off, everyone around him lifted, every pass every kick, his organisation, was just pure gold. It was a great game to watch. If he can turn out this sort of performance on a regular basis the Panthers will leap up the table.

    I’ve been saying for a while that the Gold Coast Titans would come good once their horrific injury crisis came to an end, and now we’re seeing those players return and settle in the side, they’re reaping the benefits. The beat a very good Cronulla side at thw weekend, although the first half was almost played under water which did dampen things somewhat.

    I can’t see the Knights or Tigers emerging next season, I think the teams to watch next season will be the Titans, Panthers, and Eels. The teams on the slide are the Bulldogs and Souths. The Bulldogs seem to have lost the plot and Souths couldn’t buy a win in some games, all the talent, all the skills, but the results just won’t come right for them. It’s been a very competitive season, there has been a general levelling out, almost any team can on their day beat any other side. At the moment the Sea Eagles and Storm look the form sides and probable Grand Final opponents.

    • You’re right. You’ve been adamant that the Titans would come good all season. And admittedly, I didn’t buy it. They were excellent last week; here’s hoping they can replicate their effort over the closing rounds and next year.

      The Tigers and Knights call is definitely a long shot. I’m hanging my hat on the renewed faith that the players and coach seem to be placing in Trent Hodkinson, and to lesser extent the impact Josh Reynolds can have on the combativeness of the Tigers.

      The Panthers, I worry, have been talked up in the same way for the past few off-seasons and will probably disappoint in the same way next year.

  2. Shaun Johnson is one of the greats on his day but those days have been few and far between the last couple of seasons. His kicking game and 5th tackle options have put the Warriors under a lot of pressure all year. I hope he recovers but he seems to be going the way of Benji Marshall’s last season at the Dragons.

    • It seems he will recover and might even play a part in the Warriors season after scans revealed he didn’t suffer an ACL injury as suspected.

      The Warriors would be foolish to risk him though once their playoff hopes are gone – unless he wants some game time before the World Cup.

      But as say his fifth tackle options have been mediocre and perhaps the injury provides a good opportunity for the Warriors to give Lino and Hingano more experience. A move that could ease the fifth tackle pressure on Johnson in the long run and improve the Warriors variety.

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