NRL Round 11 Hits and Misses: Payten coach of the year?

Round 11 of the NRL season brought more accolades for Cowboys coach Todd Payten, greener pastures for the Raiders, terrible news for Tommy Turbo and a referee abuser slapped with a damp lettuce leaf.

Read on as we take a look back at some of the biggest hits and misses of the weekend.

HITS

Is Todd Payten coach of the year already?

At the start of the season, some sceptics (cough, cough) had pencilled in the North Queensland Cowboys as possible wooden-spooners. They'd finished second-last in Todd Payten's first season as coach, and their biggest signing was Chad Townsend -- a solid but unspectacular halfback let go by the Sharks.

When they started the season with a loss to the lowly Bulldogs, those spoon predictions were looking on the money. But they've improved rapidly since then, reeling off a six-game winning streak that included a 31-point over of the Eels and now a 30-point thrashing of the mighty Melbourne Storm.

Payten's done a superb job getting the best out of his team, but it's a team that suddenly looks perfectly well balanced. Townsend and Tom Dearden are savvy playmakers who don't try to do too much, Scott Drinkwater is an attacking weapon from the back, there are genuine strike weapons out wide in Valentine Holmes, Murray Taulagi and Kyle Feldt, and a couple of the game's best young attacking back-rowers in Jeremiah Nanai and Heilum Luki. Reuben Cotter and Reece Robson are a couple of workaholics in the middle of the park. And then there's the team's genuine superstar, Jason Taumalolo.

Injuries have been kind so far, and they've made the most of a "soft" draw -- but the Cowboys are now getting great results against the NRL's top teams and it's looking more and more like they could be genuine title contenders. It sets up a massive game against the red-hot Panthers on Friday night.

- Dominic Brock

Ricky's Raiders revive their season

Eight rounds into the season the Raiders were struggling in 15th place on the ladder after a five-game losing streak, with Jack Wighton suspended and their finals hopes seemingly over already.

Now they've won three straight and their season looks alive again, drawing level with the eighth-placed Rabbitohs on 10 points from 11 matches.

They thumped the Bunnies 32-12 in Dubbo on Sunday, with Josh Papalii scoring a great individual try in his 250th NRL game, and it's their second 20-point win over top-eight opponents in as many weeks.

In fact eight of their 11 matches have come against teams currently in the top half of the ladder, and while they have three more coming up in the coming weeks (against the Eels, Roosters and Broncos) they then have a fairly soft draw in the second half of the year.

Don't be surprised if the Green Machine have a big finish in 2022 to sneak into the finals.

- Dominic Brock

MISSES

Injury wrecks another Turbo season

Tom Trbojevic has had rotten luck with injuries throughout his career, something that he finally appeared to have put behind him in last year's Dally M-winning season. Trbojevic was the game's best player in 2021, ranked the best player across the NRL and State of Origin and piling up an almost unbelievable number of tries and assists as Manly again became a finals force.

But this year he hasn't been at his best -- leading to questions around his fitness at Magic Round -- and his season looks to have ended when he left the field with a serious shoulder injury late in Friday night's narrow loss to the Eels.

It's terrible news for Manly, but also the NSW Blues and the game itself to lose such a quality player. For the Sea Eagles, a team that finally looked set to end their winless run against top-eight opposition, until Parramatta snuck home to win on Friday, it's hard to see them competing with the top teams without Trbojevic on board.

For the Blues, it means Brad Fittler will need to select a whole new centre pairing for next month's State of Origin series.

- Dominic Brock

Outbursts like the one from JWH have to be stamped out

The AFL has come under some heavy criticism lately for their efforts to stamp out umpire abuse. They have introduced 50-metre free kicks for the slightest sign of player dissent. Players are no longer allowed to argue with the umpire, raise their arms in bewilderment, shake their heads or show any sign that they believe they have been wronged. Critics say it is near impossible to remove the emotion from the game, but try telling that to junior officials who are hanging up their whistles in droves because they are sick of being abused by players, spectators and coaches alike.

During their big loss to the Panthers, Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was placed on report after he collected James Fisher-Harris high as he crossed for a try. The Panthers were awarded a potential eight-point try as microphones picked up a foul-mouthed tirade from Waerea-Hargreaves aimed at referee Gerard Sutton.

"Do you reckon every opportunity you get to put me on report (you do). Don't you reckon? I'm just saying," Waerea-Hargreaves could be heard telling Sutton.

"Every time, bro. Every f***king time. It's not fair.

"Every f***ing time, every time."

Waerea-Hargreaves was then sent to the sin-bin to cool down, but disappointingly, the Match Review Committee only handed him a grade one contrary conduct charge and accompanying $1800 fine. The NRL has to take a stronger stance against this kind of behaviour. The damage done might not be noticed at the top level of the game, but when players at junior levels emulate their heroes and abuse young referees, that's where we have a real problem.

No matter how questionable you think the abilities of any referee, at any level might be, just try playing a game without one.

- Darren Arthur

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