This article was first written for and published by The Roar.
My goodness there has been some dreadful football over the last couple of weeks.
Given the point of the season we’re at, I’m not surprised.
I tend to think about the NRL season in three distinct parts: the pre-State of Origin period, the State of Origin period and the post-State of Origin period.
We generally see the best football of the year in the pre-State of Origin period, when almost every team has the opportunity to make the eight and when teams are almost injury free and are fresh from the off-season.
When I look back on those rounds this year, the dominance of the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Manly Sea Eagles’ strong start stand out, as do how Luke Keary looked to be fitting so well into his new home at the Sydney Roosters.
Then State of Origin comes along and wreaks havoc on the season. There are always plenty of injuries, new players being given an opportunity and gripes about how this period favours some teams over others.
The focus during this period always moves away from club football and onto the rivalry between Queensland and New South Wales – so much so that when the series is over everyone suddenly remembers that finals are around the corner and the end of the season is looming.
We’re now at the point where several teams, including the Canterbury Bulldogs, Newcastle Knights, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Gold Coast Titans and Wests Tigers, know there is no chance they can make the finals. Unsurprisingly some of these teams begin to switch off and start thinking about the offseason, so we start to see games where the quality of football is substandard.
But even with that in mind some of the football we’ve seen recently has been atrocious. Interestingly it’s not just been the teams who have been ruled out of finals contention that have been difficult to watch – it’s also been some of the teams that should be making a push for the finals given how congested the middle of the ladder is at the moment – the Dragons, the Sea Eagles (prior to last weekend) and Warriors all come to mind.
The dismal standard of football in some cases has made me think about which team has been most disappointing this year, and there are a couple of contenders.
Gold Coast Titans
This is a team that made my top eight at the start of the year. Given they just missed out last year, I thought the addition of Jarryd Hayne would only improve the team as would Kane Elgey returning and Ash Taylor’s learnings from last year.
I was wrong.
To be fair, the Titans have had plenty of injuries. This is a team that have had so many injuries that I wonder if it’s beyond the point of coincidence and something to do with their strength and conditioning.
What intrigues me most about this team is that they were the team that everyone described as ‘gritty’ and ‘brave’ earlier in the season. I thought that their sole purpose in the last few weeks of the competition would be to mess up other teams’ runs to the finals, but despite being almost at full strength now, in the last fortnight this team has shown none of the grit and tenacity which held them in such good stead earlier this season.
Hayne looks similar to how he did at the Parramatta Eels: outstanding some weeks, uninterested other weeks.
The effort against the Broncos on the weekend was appalling. To have 54 points scored against you in 57 minutes of football is almost unfathomable. This was the heaviest defeat the Titans have ever endured.
A team with players like Ryan James, Jarrod Wallace, Nathan Peats, Hayne and Ash Taylor should not find themselves so low on the ladder, but here we are.
If I don’t see another Canterbury Bulldogs game this year, I won’t be disappointed.
But I do believe in the old saying ‘a fish rots from his head’, and there has been plenty of rotting at Belmore this year. It started with uncertainty around the coaching future of Des Hasler – and continued uncertainty despite the Bulldogs re-signing him earlier this year – the playing future of Josh Reynolds was played out in the media and then the news of Raelene Castle’s resignation effective at the end of the year came among rumblings of a divided board.
Some of this has surely impacted the team, which looks lost in attack each week. It says a lot when your best fifth-tackle option is David Klemmer kicking across the field to Marcelo Montoya.
Kieran Foran has his work cut out for him next year, and after what I’ve seen from him at the Warriors this year, I query whether he is up to the challenge.
Canberra Raiders and Penrith Panthers
For the moment these teams get only honourable mentions that depend on whether they make the finals.
Despite being premiership favourites at the start of the year, Penrith waited until the back third of the competition before managing to beat a team in the top eight. They have now won five straight and are still very much in the mix for the finals – unless the Raiders take their spot – but to do that the Raiders must win at least three of their four final games if results go their way, or all four if other matches don’t fall for them.
If both these teams miss the eight, you can certainly put them down as major disappointments in 2017.
New Zealand Warriors
This is the team that inspired me to write this article. At the start of the year I said that the NRL should ‘fold’ the Warriors if they did not make the finals this year.
Any team with talent like Bodene Thompson, Simon Mannering, Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke should be aiming to finish the season comfortably within the top eight.
But, true to form, the Warriors have disappointed, and when Shaun Johnson was ruled out for the rest of the season five weeks ago, I wondered whether they would win another game. Their effort against the Knights on the weekend suggests that they will not, because they do not have the mental toughness to compete in the NRL as a top-performing team.
I’m out of excuses for the Warriors. They have had several different coaches, none of which have been able to produce results. It’s perhaps time for the players to start taking some responsibility and recognise the impact that their poor football is having on rugby league in New Zealand.
So the New Zealand Warriors win my award for most disappointing team this season. Who wins yours?