For rugby league nerds, this weekend is the true rugby league Christmas. We have a phenomenal mix of men’s and women’s games, featuring top line players representing teams from all over the southern hemisphere. There’s a World Cup qualifier in Sydney between the Cook Islands and South Africa. There’s two State of Origin matches, one for each cisgender. We have two women’s internationals, featuring Samoa, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, as well as the NRL’s Pacific Invitational with the same teams, except that famously Pacific nation, Lebanon, plays in lieu of New Zealand. The Kiwis will instead be facing down arch rivals Mate Ma’a Tonga to avenge their 2017 World Cup embarrassment in the opening fixture of the new Oceania Cup.
(Also worth a look this weekend in boring old club football: London Broncos vs Hull Kingston Rovers in a relegation battle. Kickoff 4.45AM AEST on Friday)
It’s a feast of rugby league and significantly more tantalising than what the NRL has served up lately. Here’s a bit of insight into each.
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Despite being set an 18 point line, the Warriors managed to run the Storm close on ANZAC Day in Melbourne. Were it not for a dubious decision or two in the closing phase of the game, the Aucklanders might have left AAMI Park with the win. That led to people, including me, wondering out loud via social media where that level of play had come from, especially compared to some of the Warriors’ earlier displays this season.
Some people suggested the Warriors in Melbourne was a Thing. We only need to remember last year’s 50-10 drubbing to dispel that but also recall that the Warriors have a 7-13-1 record in Melbourne, with an average margin of thirteen points in the Storm’s favour.
So what gives?
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With the conclusion of round 14, it’s just over half time in the 2017 NRL season. It’s the ideal time to do what everyone else is doing and look back at the season so far. This week we’re looking at the back half of the NRL.
Part I, from Brisbane to Newcastle, was last week.
A reminder of the benchmarks that define each place on the ladder –
And where grand finalists and premiers come from on the ladder –
The Auckland Warriors, as they were originally known, were introduced to the competition in 1996, the first expansion team from outside of Australia.
In the heady days of Stacey Jones’ leadership, the team became contenders, winning a minor premiership in 2002 and only falling at the last hurdle in the grand final to the Sydney Roosters. The team would be deep into the finals again in 2003 before being eliminated in the preliminary final by eventual premiers Penrith.
The Warriors went through a period of re-building after Jones left the club in 2005, culminating in another grand final appearance in 2011 under coach Ivan Cleary. While NZ would ultimately lose out to Manly, the Warriors have since maintained a level of adequacy that is neither inspiring nor depressing. The team is struggling to make an impact this year and has faced an unfair call to be dropped from the competition despite never having copped a wooden spoon.