NRL great PAUL GALLEN will appear on Nine’s 100% FOOTY every Monday night of the NRL season, debating rugby league’s hottest topics alongside Phil Gould and James Bracey. Tune in tonight at 10.15pm (AEST) following a bumper round nine!
South Sydney are now outside the top eight, and although I still expect them to play finals footy this year, the position they find themselves in right now is no surprise given what’s unfolded over the last 12 months.
For me the big disappointment over the Adam Reynolds situation was that not only was he the heart and soul of the team, but he was also a local kid. He grew up there and all he wanted to do was play for Souths.
The fact he was forced out was a really bad message to send to young players in the area. He was only asking for about $700,000 a year, which I know is a lot of money, but it’s a bargain when you’re talking about good halfbacks in the NRL.
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His replacement, Lachlan Ilias, isn’t a Souths junior like Reynolds, but what’s he thinking? In five, six, seven years time, when he’s flying, does a younger guy come along and Ilias finds he’s moved aside for the next generation?
People wonder why there’s no loyalty in the game anymore, but it’s a two-way street. It has to work both ways. That was my biggest issue with what happened to Reynolds.
He’d just taken Souths to a grand finale. We know how long it can take for a young halfback to develop into someone who can lead a team around the park. For Ilias to tell guys like Tom Burgess and Jai Arrow what to do and where to run, it takes a few years to reach that level.
I know it’s easy in hindsight, but I said it from the start it was the wrong call, and a horrible look for the club.
It’s so hard to find a quality halfback who can perform week-in, week-out in the NRL. When you’ve got one, like Souths had with Reynolds, you do everything you can to retain them.
The big thing for me is that I didn’t see Reynolds as an old player. He’s 31, not 34 or 35, it was hard to see how he didn’t still have a few good years left in him.
That said, Reynold’s absence isn’t the only reason Souths find themselves outside the top eight right now. Latrell Mitchell’s injury is a huge factor. It’s a massive loss. I know they got to a grand final last year without him, but his influence on matches is so big.
His combination on the left hand side of the field with Cody Walker is enormous. They’ve also lost Dane Gagai from last year.
I always thought they’d slip down the ladder this year. At the start of the year I had them finishing somewhere in the second half of the top-eight, so it’s not a major surprise to see them in ninth right now. There’s still a long way to go, it’s only round nine, but where they’re at at the moment doesn’t surprise me.
Along with Reynolds and Gagai leaving, and Mitchell getting injured, they’ve also lost the greatest coach of all time.
I know there’s been questions over Cody Walker, in light of what happened after the Manly match and then the blow-up with Billy Walters, but I don’t think that’s anything to do with Reynolds not being there. Walker is his own man. We’ve seen him have blow-ups for years, it’s not right to say that just because Reynolds is gone that’s had an impact on Walker.
He’s a fiery customer, he tries to get under the skin of other players, and in saying that opposition players can get under his skin as well.
Just in recent days we’ve seen that Manly will lose Kieran Foran for next year, but to me that’s a totally different situation from Souths letting Reynolds go.
The positive for the Sea Eagles is that Foran’s replacement, Josh Schuster, has been there for a while and played a fair bit of first grade. It’s not like Lachlan Ilias, who only made his debut at the end of 2021. They’re the same age, but Schuster came into first grade more than 12 months before Ilias.
Manly are in a much better position than what Souths were. Schuster has had some really good games in first grade. Manly finished top-four last year and he was a big part of that.
I don’t know if Foran being let go was because of the rumor that Schuster wanted to play five-eighth, and I think if you were a Manly fan you’d be disappointed if that was the case. But I don’t think Des Hasler is the type of coach to guarantee anyone a position. Des picks his best team, so it would be a surprise if that was the case.
The salary cap is such a balancing act, and we see so many times that clubs struggle to get it right.
Papenhuyzen injury a blow for Blues
Normally the loss of a player like Ryan Papenhuyzen to injury would be a major drama for a club, but who knows how it will impact the Storm. Melbourne is light-years ahead of the field right now, they’re bashing everyone they face.
They’ll lose a bit with Papenhuyzen out, for sure, but they’re that well drilled they’ll just bring another player in to do the job.
We’ve seen it over and over. When Cooper Cronk left the club, we said they’d drop off, and they made the grand finale. The best player of all time, Cameron Smith, leaves the club, and they carried on.
When the final part of the big three, Billy Slater, retired, we said that would be it, and yet they’re still at the front. It’s incredible.
It’s an amazing system they’ve got. Never write off Melbourne Storm.
I’m not sure at this stage how Papenhuyzen’s injury plays in State of Origin calculations for New South Wales. Freddy hasn’t really said how he wants to use the No.14 role. But there’s the old saying, a week in rugby league is a long time. We all had him penciled in for the No.14 spot and now he’s injured.
There’s still a few more games to be played before the squad is named, so let’s just wait and see.
Eels need to overcome inconsistency
Penrith’s incredible run at home finally came to an end at the hands of Parramatta, the same team who lost to the Tigers and struggled to beat the Titans.
That’s my big worry about the Eels. Being a good consistent top four team is about winning games that you’re expected to win, and then winning the games against the good sides, especially when they’re tight, which is what we saw in their win over Melbourne earlier in the season and the victory over Penrith.
I remember watching the game against Melbourne and thinking it was the type of match the Eels had to win to be a premiership contender, and they did. Now they’ve done it again against Penrith, but in between they lost to the Titans. That’s where they need to improve. They need to realize what they did in the lead-up to the Melbourne and Penrith games, and take that attitude into every game.
Maybe they’re taking their foot off the gas by a few per cent when they play the lesser teams, and that’s all it takes in this competition. Each individual needs to ask himself if the preparation for each match is where it needs to be.
There’s no doubt they can match it with the best on their day, their challenge is to replicate that every week.
The great thing for Parramatta is these two wins will give them confidence come September. There’s no doubt whoever wins this comp will have to beat Penrith and Melbourne, and they’ve done it already. There won’t be too many teams in the finals who can say that.
They’ve got a squad who’ve been together for a number of years now, and while they lack that one superstar like Jams Tedesco or Tom Trbojevic, the experience of having been together for a while will hopefully make up for that. They know each other’s game inside-out.
I tipped them at the start of the year to make the grand final, the superstar factor is my only reservation. Dylan Brown is probably the closest they’ve got, and his running game this year has been fantastic, he’s gone to another level.
He’s the player who maybe can make something out of nothing for Parramatta.
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The fact that they’ve got a number of players leaving at the end of the year should actually help them in 2022. They’ve got to know it’s their last chance as a group. Isaiah Papali’i was nowhere near the player he is now when he was at the Warriors. He’s excelled at Parramatta.
Reed Mahoney will be another big loss, the general of their team, you take those two out and for sure Parramatta wouldn’t be going as well as they are.
So, as a team, and as individuals they need to realize this is their last chance together. That’s not to say they can’t be up the top again next year, but it will be a different group of players. It’s definitely going to be a motivation this year.
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