Five and a kick: Raiders reeling, let’s boot Wah fever and Tigers bag bargain Doueihi

Heading into round 17 it’s hard to argue the validity of the competition’s two best outfits, Melbourne and Penrith. Cronulla and the Roosters share third and fourth respectively, with the latter seemingly travelling nicer towards the final bend of the season.

Yet, away from powerhouse coaches Ivan Cleary and Craig Bellamy, let’s face it, the NRL is wide open. The Bulldogs, Dolphins, Rabbitohs and the Tigers of Sunday can make a real dent in results over the final two months.

Tyran Wishart muscles up in defence. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Little has been mentioned about the new wooden spooners in Parramatta, who have lost all their away games (0-6) and hold the poorest differential in the system (-121).

Enough around the grounds, let’s tuck into the stories of round 16 – and the tales that are only getting worse for many.

1. Raiders look defeated

I’m sick of hearing about the loyalty Canberra instil in Ricky Stuart. Sure, I understand he is a passionate coach with a deep-rooted history at the Raiders.

But seriously, things are not changing at the nation’s capital. I’ve said this before and was met with disdain – but the Raiders can not put away sides in must win fixtures. It seems they switch off and become an outfit of individuals, rather than a combined 17.

The Green Machine finished eighth in 2023 and 2022, 10th in 2021 and are currently poised in 10th. Stuart has recently signed an extension until the 2029 season – but does his continued tenure show Canberra are content with mediocrity?

After 10 full seasons at the helm, Stuart has led the Raiders to five top eight finishes – a 50% strike rate as a finals coach. Keep in mind, finishing eighth doesn’t exactly count as a win.

Yesterday in the press conference following their loss to Wests, Stuart looked done – as he always does post a defeat. He was exhausted, frustrated and stuck for words. Fine, that’s ok every now and again.

Although at some stage, he must meet questions with some form of sensibility. The Raiders were soft – but they have been for a while. Granted their spine is without Jamal Fogarty and the forward pack missing Corey Horsburgh, but 2024 is running away from them regardless.

It’s time for a cultural change, if not a coach, a word. There was a critical moment when Elliott Whitehead took the ball from dummy-half on the fifth tackle and went for a scoot, failing to look at the set backline who had all the momentum. As captain, it was a selfish act – one without a thought for his team.

2. Wah fever becoming a sickness

The 2023 season for the Warriors was nothing short of bedazzling. Led by the return of Shaun Johnson, it was terrific to see such pride and excitement from the people and fans of New Zealand.

Although we will not be seeing a repeat. They were humbled in the preliminary final against the Broncos, and are starting to look like a broken record in 2024.

To have the Titans scoring a try at nearly every five-minute interval was embarrassing. Apart from the Origin exclusions of Kurt Capewell and Mitch Barnett, that was the Warriors’ prime outfit.

They slump to 13th on the ladder and it’s hard to see them figure in the final eight – especially with the Rabbitohs’ resurgence wreaking havoc on the table.

Where will success come from for the Warriors? Jett Cleary comes into the fray in 2025, but to ask a 19-year-old to turn around a club, with zero NRL experience is a curse. Saying that, Nathan Cleary did similar at Penrith.

On paper the Warriors have a more than decent 17, filled with the likes of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – but even his placement at centre is a little confusing.

While Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is a talented fullback, having RTS at centre is not ideal. The cross-code convert is at his best when given space and creative license, to return kicks and receive the ball at the back off a block play.

3. Doueihi a downright discount bargain

Trent Robinson missed out. Adam Doueihi is back and provides immense value and energy to the Tigers. In just his first game back after 441 days, overcoming his third ACL rupture – the big body was powerful.

Doueihi took it upon himself to play a roaming fullback role, while technically listed at centre. He was dangerous in aerial contests and strong in contact, scoring a breakaway intercept try that more than knocked the dust out of those knees.

The 25-year-old resigned with Wests for 2025, on a deal reportedly around just $150,000. Come on, that is a steal.

Doueihi can play six, one, centre or even lock. Aided by the likes of Lachlan Galvin and Api Koroisau, the Balmain junior will be a mainstay of the Tigers for years to come.

Benji Marshall said the centre was hassling him for weeks to put him back into the side, he was right delaying him those few rounds.

Campbelltown was the perfect place to release his enthusiasm and spark. The Tigers put in a top eight performance and can create chaos for finals-bound clubs in the closing rounds.

4. Reece Robson vs Api Koroisau

Cowboys and Blues hooker Reece Robson deserved his spot at NSWs’ ruck. Yet in a side picked on form, so too did Api Koroisau – he is something else when he turns it up.

Koroisau and Robson are both defensive beasts – but when it comes to attack, the two are very dissimilar.

Koroisau has a certain eye in attack that not many other No.9’s have. Further, he has a knack for bringing out the best in his fellow forwards. This was on full display against the Raiders.

Stefano Utoikamanu, Sione Fainu and Fonua Pole all had front foot pill and were dangerous inside the opposition 10. Koroisau has a stunning ability to create favourable matchups in contact. Utoikamanu’s try was a perfect illustration.

The former Blue looked to snare left, but pulled back in planned hesitation and held up the ball behind the ruck, taking a few steps to his right – timing did the rest. Utoikamanu had a simple one-on-one against Danny Levi, who while no mug, will always come off second best in size.

If the Blues lose game two, Koroisau may well be called up for a game three dead rubber. Unfortunately for him, in Origin and the NRL alike, teams rarely change after a win.

5. Tyran Wishart and Trai Fuller beefing up their price tags

Man of the match performances are hard to come by when you’re a standby spine player. For Tyran Wishart and Trai Fuller, filling in for injury and Origin cover has added interest and value to their services.

Wishart was a star for Melbourne in their 30-24 triumph over the Dolphins, proving he is more than worthy of a starting No.6 jersey.

While small in stature, his surfy blond look was making waves all night. Wishart has a sharp turn of speed and is tough as nails in defence – he could be lured away from the Storm shortly.

Trai Fuller on the other hand wasted no time getting into his work in the absence of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow. Fuller, 27, is an NRL fullback, no questions asked.

Fuller ran for 197 metres, broke six tackles and scored a sensational try that turned Nick Meaney inside out.

The Sharks, Knights, Rabbitohs and Titans continue to alter their halves combination – and Wishart could be a value buy as utility cover and a starting proposition, if he seeks a higher cash tag elsewhere.

Kick – Joey putting the mocker on the Blues

I’d be all for Andrew Johns declaring a Blues win in game two, had NSW have dominated in the series opener.

Yet, time and time again, the Blues legend goes on a run saying NSW are a moral.

‘I have no doubt they’ll win,’ Johns said on 100% Footy.

‘Daly Cherry-Evans is on top of his game, but good luck tackling Latrell,” Johns said earlier this week.

“Valentine Holmes is already talking it up saying he will get in Latrell’s face, so Latrell is in their heads. It is good.

“The right side of Queensland is a target.”

Come on Joey, let Latrell do the talking himself on Wednesday night – and if the result goes NSWs’ way, then sing your praises.

Queensland, while ahead, seem to always enter the bout with a sense of grace and humility. They handle the media with ease and give away very little. The Maroons love to take the zing out of a storyline.

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