This week we celebrate the resurgent Wests Tigers, bemoan the return of the crusher tackle, consider the poor defence of both Kalyn Ponga and Tyrell Sloan and wonder what happened to home ground advantage.
Read on as we take a look back at some of the biggest hits and misses of the weekend.
Jahream night in soggy Bathurst for Tigers fullback
Jahream Bula has been an exciting addition to the struggling Tigers team at fullback. An elusive ball runner, he still has a lot of development ahead of him, before he becomes the complete first grade custodian. Still there was a moment with 24 minutes remaining in their clash with the Panthers where he showcased that potential, certainly from a defensive perspective.
Nathan Cleary broke through from 30 metres out and looked destined to score a try that would have levelled the scores at 8 in the pouring Bathurst rain. From nowhere Bula cut him down with a perfect cover tackle, bringing the star halfback to earth short of the line and jarring the ball loose before he had any chance of sliding towards in-goal area in the sloppy conditions. It was the kind of play which lifts any team, gives them belief and sets the standard of desperation needed in defence.
He also spent a large part of the night stationed unwaveringly under some soaring Cleary specials, taking them calmly in the appalling conditions. In just his second game in first grade, Bula played a key role in the Tigers defeating the reigning premiers, easily the biggest upset of the season to date.
Rub the back of your neck, stay down, receive penalty, repeat
The crusher tackle seems to be back in vogue, with the Titans scoring two tries following penalties for the hard-to-avoid, difficult-to-quantify discretion. The Titans players involved were well versed in how to assist match officials with identifying instances, grabbing the back of their necks, rubbing furiously and staying down until the referee inevitably stopped play.
It has been said many times before, when a player backs into the defence and slumps into a tackle, it is often impossible for the defenders to avoid applying pressure to the back of the head. If staying down and rubbing your neck is all you need to do for a penalty, there is no incentive for a player not to go in backwards. Clearly we need to eradicate the severe cases where a defender deliberately puts his whole weight on the head of the attacking player, but some of the incidental brushes that are currently being penalised sit right up there with frivolous sin binnings and the mysterious hip drop tackle, as sources of frustration and anguish for fans of the game.
Sloan slain by Averillo slickness
Bulldogs centre Jake Averillo has had a mixed career so far, being tossed around through several positions, including halfback and fullback, as consecutive coaches tried to find the best place for him in a struggling side. Coach Cameron Ciraldo has been playing him in the centres, but on the weekend he scored two scorching tries running outside Braidon Burns, effectively on the wing.
Dragons fullback Tyrell Sloan has a reputation for being a very dangerous ball runner, with pace to burn and elusive footwork, but his defence was painfully exposed by Averillo on both occasions. He was left grasping at air as the Bulldogs centre scored in the 33rd and 55th minutes of the game, both from raids which started well within opposition territory.
In the first half Burns turned a run inside his own half into a skip across the line before sending Averillo through a gap. The speed of the movement meant the Bulldogs flyer was pretty much on his own with the fullback to beat. He gave the slightest of in-and-aways, before breaking through a feeble tackle attempt, racing away to score near the posts.
In the second half it was the same unlikely pairing as Burns this time floated a pass well inside Bulldogs territory to put Averillo outside the Dragons winger. The chasers mostly fell away, as Averillo showed his deceptive pace, but Sloan was closing in, herding Averillo towards the touchline. The Bulldogs star mearly changed direction just as Sloan approached, turning the Dragons fullback inside out. By the time Sloan was facing Averillo again he was gone, off for his second try of the day.
Is Ponga tackle-shy in the wake of his concussion issues?
It was an awful first half for the Knights, who appeared to be largely disinterested in tackling Eels players at Parramatta on Friday night. Kalyn Ponga, who was playing his second game back from a concussion break, was targeted and it was a very effective tactic. Ponga made 13 tackles on the night, but missed eight. The Eels just poured through on both sides of the ruck, proving that Ponga wasn't the only one at fault, as the Knights totalled 61 missed tackles.
The Knights tightened up a bit after the break, only conceding two more tries on their way to a 43-12 defeat. The question confronting the coaching staff of Newcastle continues to be whether the front line of defence is the best place for Ponga to be. Teams aren't targetting him because of his concussion issues, they are running at him because he is clearly a weakness in the defensive wall. It not only leads to attacking breaks, it becomes a real kick in the teeth for team morale, when the highest paid player is seen as an exploitable liability.
Fortresses crumbling through Round 9
The myth of home field advantage took a hammering over the weekend. It started well with the Sharks and Eels having strong victories at home, but it was mostly downhill from there. The Broncos were smacked in front of a full house in Brisbane on Friday night, before the Raiders won what was a home game, but played in Wagga Wagga to start Saturday.
Next up the Sea Eagles were upset by the Titans at "fortress" Brookvale, before the Panthers lost their home game, which they had taken to Bathurst. Come Sunday, the Roosters travelled all the way to New Zealand to defeat the Warriors, while the Bulldogs faced the unfriendly surrounds of WIN Stadium and managed to hold on to beat the Dragons.
Tippers factoring the home field advantage into their weekly choices can relax as we head into Magic Round this week. With the Broncos and Dolphins the only two teams claiming home turf, and both facing tough assignments in the Sea Eagles and Sharks.
Harsh call for Warriors, again
Seventeen minutes into the soggy clash in Auckland and Roosters fullback James Tedesco rose to his feet to play the ball after a kick return run. The problem was, no one had made it to dummy-half in time. Warriors five-eighth Cody Walker saw the unattended ball and lunged at it from marker as Roosters winger Jaxson Paulo arrived.
Walker was penalised and the Roosters moved downfield on the attack. Surely the team playing the ball has a responsibility to have a dummy-half in position. Is the defence just meant to stand by and wait for a player to arrive? It must go down as a poor play-the-ball, with possession handed over, as with every other little bobble or misplacement of the boot.