It was the game of the round and a comeback for the ages. Down 30-6 with 25 minutes left against Parramatta, the Cowboys were sunk. The Eels were playing with real power and pace, and crossed for tries on the Cows’ left edge at will. The visitors had got one try of their own in the first half, but really it was just blip. Parramatta was cruising to a great win at Pirtek Stadium, a much-needed one for the cellar dwellers against a competition heavyweight.
And then it all changed, we had 12 minutes of the craziest rugby league you’ll ever see. The Eels imploded spectacularly and North Queensland ran in five tries unopposed. Big Gavin Cooper scored three of them, two in identical fashion off Jonathan Thurston grubbers, and the Cows got home 36-30. Parramatta fell off tackles and gave up field position again and again. It was the kind of game you needed to re-watch again to make sure you really had witnessed what you’d just seen. Remarkable stuff. I can’t remember a team playing so badly for 15 minutes, and one playing so well for the same period.
It was the third greatest comeback in NRL history in terms of points recovered and it was the Cowboys 10th straight win this year. Furious Parra coach Brad Arthur accused his players of “removing themselves” from the game. Arthur will be at a loss to explain how and why his side collapsed so dramatically late in the second half, it was just bizarre. The fight in that 12 minutes went completely out of them. The Eels were dejected and the Cows were crowing. Definitely an NRL game to savour, unless you follow the blue and gold of course.
Be didn’t have a big profile before 2015 started but Moses Mybe is surely getting one now. 2014 was all about Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds at Canterbury, the halves pair who led both NSW to Origin glory and the Bulldogs to a grand final. But in comes this 21-year old from Noosa. What a talent. He only made his first-grade debut last year, and has just 20-odd NRL games under his belt, but what a player.
Mbye has been exciting to watch, his form so impressive that Des Hasler has had to make room for him in his run-on 13. One of Hodkinson and Reynolds has been forced to step aside, such has been the impact of the rookie. At home in the halves, in the centres or at hooker, Mbye has been dynamite. The utility has been a big reason in why the Bulldogs are starting to turn their season around and his rising value could force Hodkinson out of the club. Mbye is off contract at the end of this year, the same as Hodkinson, and the Doggies will be hard-pressed to keep them both. What do they do? Back the youngster or go with the Blue?
The skinny coach, the non-smiling man, supercoach, Clint Eastwood from Gran Torino, Wayne Bennett has a few quality nicknames. But the miserly NRL coach who rarely beams should be grinning to ear to ear lately as he’s got the Brisbane Broncos humming again. The Queensland side are on top of the NRL ladder with 10 wins from 13 games. After a season-opening loss against Souths the Broncos have been on a roll.
Bennett has got his boys firing, particularly the young guns like Josh McGuire, Lachlan Maranta, Ben Hunt and Jordan Kahu. Interestingly, it’s his impact on the youngsters he has never coached before, not the veterans like Sam Thaiday and Corey Parker, that has been the most profound. No NRL coach has more experience than Bennett, who has just about seen it all in close to three decades. Parker told me recently that Bennett’s coaching style hasn’t changed much but it’s been a breath of fresh air for the young tykes.
“I guess the big advantage is there’s only probably about four or five guys in our side, maybe five, who’ve actually played under him before,” Parker said. “So to everyone else it’s all new. When you get taken out of your comfort zone it can be a good thing. I don’t think Wayne has changed much since he last coached me, but what he has done is make everyone accountable for their actions, which in a professional environment is what you want. We have improved and there’s a really good vibe now.”
The Broncos were ruthless against Manly on Friday and look near unstoppable the moment. They have some brilliant attacking players and defend with power and gusto. There’s no real weak links in their team. Brisbane and Bennett are a match made in heaven and, while it might be a long way off, I think you can lock in a 2015 grand final spot for the Broncos and their foundation coach now.
State of Origin Game II in Melbourne is only a week and a bit away and there are some changes a foot. Paul Gallen and Brett Morris are back for NSW, with Andrew Fifita and Daniel Tupou out. Robbie Farah has also made a surprise return from his shoulder injury, and will be right for the game. The Blues are on a mission at the MCG to square the series up.
For Queensland Cooper Cronk is unavailable with a knee injury so Daly Cherry-Evans gets his halfback spot. Michael Morgan remains on the Maroons’ bench to add a bit of dynamism. Billy Slater has a shoulder issue but is expected to play next Wednesday – expect NSW to really test him out. The big news this past week has been the DCE backflip, the half spurning the Titans and staying with Manly.
The reaction was expected and hysterical at times. Cherry-Evans isn’t the first player to backflip on a deal – see Luke Lewis, James Tedesco, Josh Papalii etc – and he was taking advantage of a stupid NRL rule. Hopefully he will be the last that exploits that loophole. The Gold Coast Bulletin newspaper slammed him big-time, as did other Queensland media and past players. Of course it was a huge blow for the Titans, and a huge relief for the Sea Eagles, but the outrage was a bit over the top. DCE was booed by the Suncorp faithful on Friday nights and there’s suggestions he could cop the same from Queensland fans in Origin. I doubt it. If he plays well and leads the Maroons to a series win, all will be forgiven. That’s footy for you. Winning games just about cures all.