First tackle: Des has a very good point
The struggling Knights welcomed the high flying Sea Eagles on Sunday, desperately hoping to turn their season around. Facing them, the prospect of three Trbojevic brothers, with young Ben on the bench awaiting his NRL debut. And it looked like being another long afternoon for Newcastle when Brad Parker crossed for the first try of the game after just 10 minutes. The Knights were killing themselves with errors, their completion rate was embarrassing and any territorial advantage they had, was soon squandered.
Then Manly winger Jason Saab grabbed a loose ball in the 25th minute and raced 75 metres to take the visitors to a 10-0 lead, the last points they would score in the game.
On the back of a lopsided penalty count and two Sea Eagles players sent to the sin bin, the Knights fought back sealing an 18-10 victory with a Daniel Saifiti try in the final minutes. Manly coach Des Hasler was less than impressed by the efforts of referee Ben Cummins.
"It's very difficult with a 9-0 penalty count. I think we got our first penalty in the last 11 seconds," Hasler said.
"Benny Cummins is a much better referee than that. A much better referee than that.
"We were doing OK, we were cruising at 10-0 and I've already admitted we were a little bit ill-disciplined. Let's go to the sin bins. I don't quite understand the rule about the sin bin.
"Our player attacked the head, on report, 10 minutes. But when Marty (Taupau), when he was carrying the ball he got hit high so to come in contact with the head, forceful contact with the head, that's a sin bin and they didn't get sent to the sin bin.
"That's not a whinge or a reflection on Newcastle it's a reflection on the inconsistency in regard to that rule."
"Games are tight, games are hard to win and if that's the way we're going to go, we need that consistency," he added.
As for Ben Trbojevic's debut? Hasler sent him on with just minutes remaining in the game. He helped make a couple of tackles and then with his first touch of the ball in first grade he was hit in the head by David Klemmer. Klemmer was sent to the sin bin with seconds remaining, Manly received their only penalty of the game and Ben Trbojevic's debut ended in the HIA.
Second tackle: More confusion
If Des thought his game was bad, it wasn't any better during the Titan's loss to the Sharks earlier that day. Halfway through the second half, with the Titans well and truly beaten, Sharks prop Aaron Woods did everything he could possibly do to be sent to the sin bin during one passage of play on his own try line.
Firstly, he was penalised for high contact, something which has seen many a player sent to the bin instantly since the crackdown. Next he gave Tino Fa'asuamaleaui a shove as he rose to play the ball, resulting in a "six again" call. A couple of a tackles later he gave away a penalty for stripping the ball in a four-man tackle. He was blatantly committing professional foul after professional foul and the referee left him out there. Earlier in the game Tino Fa'asuamaleaui was sent to the sin bin without warning for repeated infringements by his team when defending their line.
Then to top it all off, just ten minutes after Woods survived, Titans half Jamal Fogarty was sent to the bin in ridiculous circumstances. Racing back down the blind side to get onside after a Sharks break, Fogarty was hit in the back by a pass from wily Sharks veteran Wade Graham. Graham had to throw a forward pass from dummy half just to hit the retreating Fogarty. The referee somehow ruled that Fogarty had interfered with the play and sent him to the sin bin for a professional foul. Woods was later placed on report for a trip and still couldn't manage a trip to the bin. The decisions being made are so hard to follow, fans have no idea what is going on half the time.
Third tackle: Teary Clifford arrives in Newcastle
There were emotional scenes surrounding Jake Clifford after the Cowboys one-point victory over the Warriors on Saturday, with the young half in tears as he hugged family and fans. Clifford signed a contract with the Knights from 2022, but it was revealed the Knights and Cowboys had come to an agreement to release him for a mid-season change of jersey.
The Knights were desperate to secure Clifford as soon as possible, with their playmaker depth tested following Blake Green's retirement and a number of injuries, including the pectoral tear suffered by Mitchell Pearce.
Unfortunately for Clifford, the Cowboys look to have turned a corner under new coach Todd Payten, with the young half finding his feet in the side. The Cowboys have found a replacement, having secured the immediate release of Broncos half Tom Deardon, while Chad Townsend is signed and will arrive for the 2022 season.
Clifford was pictured on the sidelines at MacDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday, kitted out in his Knights gear, his eyes completely dry. He would have been encouraged by his new team's gutsy victory over the Sea Eagles.
Fourth tackle: DWZ brain explosion
There is talk Dallin Watene-Zelezniak could be shown the mid-season door by the Bulldogs with the arrival of Josh Addo-Carr and Matt Burton next year putting the squeeze on the existing backline. Plays like his brain explosion pass with seconds remaining in a tight first half against the Panthers certainly won't have fans lamenting his departure.
Panthers half Nathan Cleary put a clearing kick from just inside his own half, straight to Watene-Zelezniak who took the ball on the full on his own 10 metre line, returning it with one of his typical hard and straight runs. He was met by a wall of Panthers defenders who stopped his progress and started to move him backwards. Instead of taking the tackle he threw a horrible lofted pass out the back which was swooped on by Spencer Leniu who raced away to score under the posts, for a 10-0 lead at the break.
The Bulldogs had to that point been surprising everyone, including the Panthers, with their resilience after conceding an early try. It was a desperation pass from Watene-Zelezniak, one that was not needed deep inside his own territory, and it clearly deflated his team mates after so much hard work.
Fifth and last: Tigers run out of easy-beats
Wests Tigers have only won four games this season, two against the Knights and two against the Dragons. It would be fair to assume that coach Michael Maguire has those two opponents worked out.
Unfortunately for Tigers fans, as they hope for a late charge towards ninth place, they have no more games against those two sides. They do have the Bulldogs, which would almost be considered a bye if not for the Tigers' history of struggling against their Western Sydney rivals.
Handover: Crackdown damages Origin
There are some very real fears that the head contact crackdown could ruin State of Origin, with play constantly interrupted while the referee and the bunker watch endless replays before sending players to the sin bin for forceful contact incidents. We can only hope that the usual Origin leniency is shown during the game's biggest draw card or fans will be turned off in droves.
Regardless of how the whistleblower adjudicates on the night, the crackdown has already had an enormous impact on the standard of play we can expect to see on Wednesday week. The New South Wales pack has been so decimated by suspensions that Tariq Simms finds himself in a starting back row jersey. Payne Haas, who hasn't exactly been tearing it up for the Broncos, has to overcome a knee injury to take a bench spot he might have struggled to hold if everyone was available. The Maroons will be missing Josh Papalii and possibly Felise Kaufusi.