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.