NRL talking points: Ponga shines, Johnson’s assists & Holbrook’s Titans

We’ve taken a look at the main talking points from the latest round of NRL action.

St George Illawarra Dragons 10-24 Sydney Roosters

Mitch Aubusson scored a try in his 300th match for the Roosters as they battled to see off the Dragons at WIN Stadium. 

The versatile 32-year-old made his Roosters debut in 2007 and has won three premierships with the club in 2013, 2018 and 2019. 

Due to injuries, Lachlan Lam wore the number seven shirt that his father wore 146 times for Sydney but it was prop Sio Siua Taukeiaho who stood out in an outstanding 80-minute shift, running for 238 metres and kicking two goals. 

As for St George Illawarra, this loss leaves them in 12th place and six points off the top eight, meaning they will have to realistically win all their remaining matches. 

Tristan Sailor showed his promise, involved in two Dragons tries but his coach Paul McGregor’s position will come under review for the second time this season next Tuesday in the club’s monthly board meeting. 

Next week St George Illawarra will play Parramatta on Friday with the Roosters hosting the Storm to start round 14 on Thursday.

Stat of the match: 16 – Mitch Aubusson is the 16th player to play 300 NRL matches for a single and the first since Simon Mannering for the New Zealand Warriors in 2018. 

Manly Sea Eagles 22-26 New Zealand Warriors

New Zealand Warriors claimed back-to-back wins for the first time this season as they spoiled Des Hasler’s 400th NRL game as a coach.

The game was effectively sealed as they raced to a 16-0 lead in as many minutes with tries from Patrick Herbert, Eliesa Katoa and George Jennings. 

On Saturday, it was confirmed that Nathan Brown will coach the Warriors from 2021-23, his third NRL club after spells at the Dragons and Knights. 

Already down on troops, the Sea Eagles will lose Addin Fonua-Blake for a month after a PCL injury and Martin Taupau will need to pass a HIA for next week after a high tackle by Jack Hetherington who will miss four weeks. 

The result makes it difficult for Manly to reach the top eight with upcoming matches against fellow top eight contenders Newcastle, South Sydney and Wests Tigers of vital importance. 

Manly will travel to Newcastle on Sunday while the Warriors face Penrith Panthers on Friday.

Stat of the match: 9 – Des Hasler is the ninth coach to reach 400 games in the NRL, joining current NRL coaches Wayne Bennett and Ricky Stuart. 

South Sydney Rabbitohs 28-10 Brisbane Broncos

South Sydney continued their bid for a finals place with a win over Brisbane, despite coach Wayne Bennett missing the match after he contravened NRL biosecurity protocols.

The serial premiership winner must isolate from his squad for two weeks and test negative to COVID-19 before returning. 

Despite this, the Rabbitohs were also in control with a 16-point haul from Adam Reynolds in a match where a minute’s silence was held after the Lebanon disaster, with the Rabbitohs having a large Lebanese fanbase. 

Anthony Seibold will also sit out Brisbane’s following two matches and training for a fortnight after leaving his side’s NRL bubble for personal reasons. 

It was another disappointing display from the Broncos and leaves them just two points ahead of bottom-placed Canterbury, but the performance of the half-back Tom Dearden offers some encouragement in attack. 

The Rabbitohs will be against the Cowboys on Friday and Brisbane travel to Canberra the same day.

Stat of the match:  0 – Broncos never won the wooden spoon in their history with their worst season coming in 2013 when they finished 12th. 

Melbourne Storm 41-10 Canterbury Bulldogs

Melbourne Storm eased to comprehensive victory over Canterbury Bulldogs but saw Cameron Munster again suffer a knee injury.

The mercurial half-back’s injury is the same medial ligament he strained against the Warriors in round seven and is expected to miss another two to three weeks. 

Nicho Hynes played just his fourth first-grade game, deputising for full-back Ryan Papenhuyzen with a try and an assist for Munster, a year after claiming 21 try assists in 21 matches for the Sunshine Coast Falcons.

Following the game, Papenhuyzen spoke out about death threats he and team-mates have received online, calling for action to be taken. 

A poor all-round performance for the Bulldogs did nothing for their hopes of avoiding the wooden spoon as they found themselves 22-0 down after as many minutes.  

The Storm face Sydney Roosters in a blockbuster clash on Thursday with Canterbury playing Wests Tigers on Sunday.

Stat of the match: 25 – Cameron Munster has scored 25 tries for Melbourne since his debut in 2014. 

Newcastle Knights 44-10 Wests Tigers

Newcastle took another step towards a first finals series since 2013 after a Kalyn Ponga inspired the thrashing of Wests Tigers. 

The Knights full-back was back to the form that saw him sign a multi-million dollar contract earlier in the season, recording  two tries, two try assists, and six goals along with three line breaks and 240 metres. 

Due to Blake Green making his debut in the halves after signing from the Warriors, Kurt Mann again played hooker and impressed in making 36 tackles and Newcastle’s forwards shone – David Klemmer, Jacob Saifiti and Mitch Barnett all running for over 165 metres. 

For the Tigers who saw Benji Marshall and Chris Lawrence make their 250th appearances for the club, it was a third straight loss since thrashing Brisbane 48-0 in round 10. 

They were not helped with the absence of influential hooker Harry Grant for three to four weeks with a knee injury and his replacement Moses Mbye finding it difficult in a poor team performance of 14 errors and 31 missed tackles.  

Newcastle will host Manly on Sunday while the Wests Tigers close out round 14 against Canterbury on Sunday.

Stat of the match: 20 – Kalyn Ponga’s haul of 20 points is the most points in one match by a Newcastle player against Wests Tigers, beating the record held by Andrew Johns and Darren Albert of 16. 

Penrith Panthers 28-12 Canberra Raiders

A stunning first-half performance against Canberra saw Penrith equal a club record with their eighth successive win. 

The Panthers led 24-0 at the break with tries from Viliame Kikau, Liam Martin, Stephen Crichton and Brent Naden which was enough to match their side from 2003. 

Ivan Cleary, who has been fined $20,000 after post-match regarding the match officials, has a settled side with 17 considered local products after making their NRL debuts with the club and they will be targeting a minor premiership with a favourable draw. 

Canberra effectively knew their fate at half-time but made the score respectable in the second-half with a double from Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad on his return from a finger injury. 

While their defence is strong as usual, the Raiders attack will be a concern having scored 232 points, the lowest in the top eight and have not scored four or more tries in a match in 21 games.  

Penrith will look to set a new record when they play the Warriors on Friday as Canberra host Brisbane on Saturday.

Stat of the match: 100th – The match against the Raiders was James Fisher-Harris’ 100th appearance for the Panthers, having made his debut in 2016. 

Gold Coast Titans 30-10 North Queensland Cowboys

An impressive performance from full-back AJ Brimson helped the Titans to a comfortable win over their Queensland neighbours North Queensland Cowboys.

On just his second game back from a back fracture, the 21-year-old scored two tries and set up one as the Gold Coast secured their biggest winning margin against the Cowboys. 

After his encouraging maiden campaign the Titans board are looking to sign coach Justin Holbrook on a long-term deal with his current deal running out in 2021. 

North Queensland welcomed back key half-back and captain Michael Morgan following shoulder surgery but he could not have much impact in a disappointing Cowboys showing. 

Interim coach Josh Hannay saw his side go into the break 20-0 behind and things improved little in the second half with a lacklustre performance producing 15 errors and 35 missed tackles. 

The Titans travel to face Cronulla on Saturday in round 14 with the Cowboys looking to bounce back against the Rabbitohs the same day.

Stat of the match: 6 – The loss was the Cowboys’ sixth in a row, the first time they’d had such a sequence of defeats since 2010.

Cronulla Sharks 12-14 Parramatta Eels 

Shaun Johnson’s three missed conversions proved crucial as the Eels edged past Cronulla in terrible conditions at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium. 

Goal kicking aside, the half-back was in fine form kicking a 40/20 and setting up two tries for Jesse Ramien and Ronaldo Mulitalo. 

His try assist tally now stands at 18, five more than the Roosters’ Luke Keary in second and he will need to continue this form if the Sharks, currently eighth by two points, are to play in the finals. 

A Kiwi half-back also put in an excellent performance for Parramatta as 20-year-old upcoming star Dylan Brown scored one and set up another for Kane Evans. 

Halves partner Mitchell Moses made Johnson pay for his errant kicking when he slotted a 69th-minute penalty to earn another important victory and keep the Eels in third. 

The Sharks host the Titans next on Saturday while the Eels entertain St George Illawarra the day before.

Stat of the match: 16 – Shaun Johnson’s 18 try assists are already more than he managed in 2019 when he recorded 16. 

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