NRL | Something or Nothing: Round One Talking Points
It's all overreactions or blind optimism to start an NRL season.
Most good wins are met with uncertainty about repeating them the following week, while every loss can be explained away with rust and a slow start to the year. Still, some conversations are worth having as we navigate the early rounds.
One thing is for sure. The Melbourne Storm looked exceptionally Storm-like in Round 1. Their first 30 minutes of 2021 woke everybody up from their rugby league-free summer slumber. The road to a rugby league win looked awfully similar throughout the round too. The Gold Coast Titans, however, failed to live up to expectations as they struggled to justify the pre-season hype cast upon them.
The power of Melbourne's cohesion came up here after Round 10 in 2019. Ryan Papenhuyzen had just made his first start in the NRL and slotted straight into the Storm system like he had been playing for years. The then-20-year-old scored the first try of the match, ran for 248 metres and recorded a game-high two line breaks.
Cameron Munster is the only current Storm spine player that ran out with Papenhuyzen on that day. Cameron Smith has since retired and Brodie Croft moved north to Brisbane. But that debut, the 15 games off the bench, and a foray into finals football to end the season set Papenhuyzen up to transition seamlessly into becoming a premiership-winning fullback in 2020. Now, with Smith gone and a new Storm era beginning, he's one of the best fullbacks in rugby league, and Melbourne's dominance in cohesion continues.
We saw it in action in Round 1. Even without Harry Grant in at dummy half, Melbourne wiped the floor with the South Sydney Rabbitohs throughout the first 30 minutes to set up an impressive victory. As other teams fumbled and bumbled their way through the season-opening round, the Storm looked like a well-oiled machine.
Their shifts and shapes translated straight from last season into this one. So too did the firepower of their attack and ability to roll up the field and pile up points in a hurry.
Teams averaged 10.8 handling errors each in Round 1; Melbourne finished with just six.
It's a result of playing together for years and being better prepared to start a season than any other side in the competition.
Nobody expects the Storm to fall off a cliff in the wake of Smith's departure. His absence was felt at times on Thursday night, but for the most part, those that remain got on with the job as though he never left.
The Big 3 era is officially over and it has been replaced by a younger and faster Big 4. There is something special about this group.
Running to victory
For all of the changes to the game and the desire to "bring back the little man" and "fatigue" this and "faster" that, the ways to earn a rugby league victory remain largely the same.
Win the middle and you likely win the match.
The Warriors (Round 1's lone underdog winner) were the only winning side to run for fewer metres than their opponent this week. They lost the yardage battle to the Titans by 182 metres. Meanwhile, the seven other Round 1 winners averaged 307 more metres than their opponent.
It's not a new trend.
Last season marked the eighth time in ten seasons that the premiership-winning side has conceded either the fewest or second-fewest metres per game throughout the year. Early days and all of that carry-on, but there is a good chance that it becomes nine of the last 11 by the end of the season.
Roosters, Panthers, Storm, Rabbitohs and Raiders make up the top five contenders according to the Stats Insider Futures Model. Excluding the Rabbitohs (lost to Storm), the four sides conceded just 1,363 metres each. The Panthers, Storm and Roosters, in particular, finished up the round as the top-three in the NRL in metres conceded.
As we pick teams apart over the next few weeks and look for signs of what might come closer to September, running metres - net running metres, especially - is something we can confidently rely on.
The Gold Coast Titans were THE team of the preseason. However, their first-round flop has changed many tunes.
They never looked comfortable throughout their 16-6 loss to the Warriors on Saturday afternoon.
Shock: A summer of hype and high-profile additions didn't translate into an instant improvement.
One of two common themes pop up almost every preseason when appointing the big movers of the competition. For better or worse, the 2021 Titans come into this season with both applied to them.
1) The 2018 and 2019 Knights are an excellent example of a signing spree not necessarily signalling a return to finals football. Adding high-quality players including Mitchell Pearce, Kalyn Ponga, Jesse Ramien and David Klemmerhad fans and experts appointing them as a Top-8 side. They missed out in both years.
2) The 2018, 2019 and 2020 Bulldogs repeatedly proved that the form and results of one season don't last through to Round 1 the following season. The Bulldogs won three games on the bounce to end 2017 before winning just three of their first ten in 2018. Going on to win four of their last six of the 2018 season, they again only won three of their first ten to start 2019. Despite winning fiveof their last six in 2019, they didn't win five games all season in 2020 after registering just one win across the opening ten rounds.
So, the Titans made big signings in David Fifta and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui after winning their last five games of the 2020 season.
Two tickets for the hype-train, please.
It's the NRL's favourite recipe for pre-season hype, and the Titans were certainly on board as they travelled down to the Central Coast in Round 1. But is it destined for disaster as was the case with the Knights and Bulldogs in recent seasons?
The majority of Newcastle's struggles were a result of regular re-shuffles in the spine and the inconsistency the shuffling created.
Similarly, a turnover in players in key playmaking positions has stalled Canterbury's improvements. Their spine to end a season has changed for Round 1 every year since 2017. Michael Lichaa was the most constant figure between seasons and he is no longer with the club.
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Unlike the Knights and Bulldogs, the key playmakers at the Titans will remain relatively consistent. Ash Taylor, Jamal Fogarty and AJ Brimson finished last season well, and will more than likely recapture that form sooner rather than later. They aren't spending the opening rounds working through new combinations and developing cohesion.
While Fa'asuamaleaui and Fifita will need time to adjust to their new surroundings, the heavy-lifters in organising and structuring the side being familiar with everything themselves will help speed up that process.
There's something to these slow starts by hyped-up teams, but this Titans outfit looks better prepared to live up to their finals expectations by the end of Round 25. The Stats Insider Futures Model still has the Titans sneaking into the Top 8 despite the disappointing performance to start the year.
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