The NSW halfback debate roared into action over the weekend and the final auditions it’s Eels star Michell Moses who came out on top.
The Blues also have a huge call to make regarding their dummyhalf selections, while rookie coach Andrew Webster is working his magic across the Tasman.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart may also be regretting his decision to rest veteran Jarrod Croker last week after a loss at the hands of the Warriors.
Plus — where to next for Luke Brooks after a big career decision?
Read on for all the key NRL Talking Points in Round 15.
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MOSES SET TO EARN BLUES RECALL
Mitchell Moses has surely sealed the NSW No.7 jersey and ended the chances of a Bulldogs rival after the Parramatta star put on a clinic in front of a bumper crowd at Accor Stadium to guide the Eels to a dominant 34-12 win over their rivals.
The Eels halfback started the round locked in a three-way battle with Nicho Hynes and Adam Reynolds for a ticket to Suncorp Stadium to replace the injured Nathan Cleary, and he can now book the window seat after a dazzling display that has surely ended the debate.
Moses had been the talk of the town last week to add to his one Origin appearance back in 2021, and Blues coach Brad Fittler will likely turn to the man he knows well from their time together with Lebanon to help level the series.
“I hope so,” Eels coach Brad Arthur replied when asked if he needed to find a halfback for Saturday’s game against Manly.
“He was very good today, but I think he has been for the past month.
“Since his contract stuff has been sorted, he’s been very clear on what he needs to do and what he brings to the team.
“I’ve got no doubt he can do that for NSW.”
While Reynolds scored late to seal a Brisbane comeback and Hynes had a tough day out for the Sharks, Moses was brilliant from the outset, setting up two tries and narrowly missing out on a four-pointer of his own when he charged down a kick but was ruled offside.
His footwork and speed caused the Bulldogs plenty of nightmares, with Moses stepping past Tevita Pangai Junior in consecutive sets to set up tries for Clint Gutherson.
He also forced an early line dropout which led to a try from the very next set, while his long kicking game made it impossible for the Bulldogs to apply pressure.
“I think the biggest improvement in Mitch that we’ve seen as a club is his defence,” Arthur said after Moses put in a huge effort with the game already over to chase down Jacob Preston.
“I think he’s made for Origin.”
SHOCK TEAMS FLOATED IN BIG BROOKS MOVE
A few shock clubs have been floated as potential landing spots for Luke Brooks after news the Tigers halfback had decided to leave his boyhood team at the end of the year.
Brooks had been offered a three-year extension by the Tigers but turned it down, with a change of scenery on the cards for the 28-year-old, who made his NRL debut in 2013.
Both Michael Ennis and Greg Alexander agreed it was a smart move from Brooks, adding that the split benefited both parties.
“I thought it had been coming for a while and I think it’s a great move by Luke Brooks,” Ennis said on Fox League.
“Obviously the Tigers have shown some great resolve over the last few weeks and are starting to play some decent footy. They’ve been on a huge recruitment drive and you’re starting to see the benefits of that.
“But that doesn’t hide the fact Luke Brooks has played there 11 seasons, hasn’t played a finals game. He’s got so much potential but just hasn’t been able to deliver that consistently and get his side to the finals.
“I’ve said all along, for Luke to be able to go somewhere else and have a fresh start, particularly at the end of his career, will do him wonders.”
Alexander agreed that while Brooks has been in fine form recently, he needed to look beyond recent results when making a call on his future.
“Now that he’s found form over the last five to six weeks and the Tigers have been winning games, it might make his decision a little bit tougher,” Alexander said.
“But you’ve got to go back over the last 10 years and when you think about the last 10 years I think it makes his decision easier and I would say there is no right or wrong in this.
“It’s what he wants to do but I’m 100 per cent behind the decision he’s made to leave and start afresh.”
As for where Brooks could end up, Canberra has been suggested as a logical destination given the impending departure of Jack Wighton at the end of the year.
A few surprising teams though were floated by Ennis while Alexander even suggested Brooks could consider a position change to further boost his value.
“I think Canberra and the Dogs are definitely clubs that could do with a number seven,” Ennis said.
“All that talk about Ben potentially going to the Bulldogs, we will forget that because he’ll stay at the Dragons [if his comments about Shane Flanagan are anything to go by].
“That means either the Raiders, the Dogs or even potentially the Cowboys — Chad has done a great job up there for them but he’s getting to the back-end of his career too.
“There’s a number of clubs. The Roosters is a really big one. Keary is probably coming to the back-end of his contract, what’s happened with Sam Walker? We don’t know. Their attack has been ordinary, really ordinary. So there’s plenty of clubs looking for a halfback.”
“I think Brooks could be a great 14,” added Alexander.
“I think he could be a nine. I think he could make a very good dummy-half.”
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Hynes still deserves halfback spot? | 01:27
NSW HALFBACK DEBACLE ROLLS ON
Rugby league legend Nathan Hindmarsh believes Sharks gun Nicho Hynes is a lock for the Blues’ vacant halfback role despite a poor display on Sunday afternoon.
Melbourne destroyed the Sharks 54-10 and Hynes failed to have an impact, with only 29 running metres and three offloads.
Hindmarsh believes the fact he was picked to make his Origin debut in Adelaide should see him wear the No.7 ahead of Mitchell Moses and Adam Reynolds.
“He was playing behind a pack of forwards that were absolutely smashed today,” Johns said.
“Take that out of the equation, Nicho he just pushed a few passes early on and I think that shocked his confidence a bit,” Hindmarsh said.
“He looked to me as though he had a bit of Origin selection in the back of his mind… I think that took away a bit of his focus.
“He probably didn’t have the best game he has had in a while, but for Nicho he got picked in the Origin Game I side.
“He didn’t play the best in this game but surely he gets picked for Game II.”
Moses will have his chance to show Brad Fittler what he can do on Monday night, but Reynolds put his best foot forward in a win over the Knights.
The veteran halfback scored the matchwinning try and was brilliant for Brisbane, however he knows he “can’t do anything else”.
“I’ve got no bearing on what happens from here on out. If I get selected, great, if I don’t get selected I’ll still be cheering on the Blues,” Reynolds said.
“I can’t do anything else, I’ve played my game. I probably wasn’t at my best tonight.
“I know the game a lot better now (than in 2016) and am a lot more confident in my own game, I know what I do well, I know what I don’t do well.
“I know my strengths, I know my weaknesses but it’s all irrelevant what I say. Freddy and the coaching staff, if they want to go my way I’m more than happy to do my best but if I don’t get the nod I’ll still be cheering on NSW and hopefully they can get the job done.”
Sea Eagles smash Phins in huge home win | 02:24
BLUES’ HOOKER DILEMMA
Brad Fittler’s Blues were dealt with a horror blow after a rampaging Tino Fa’asuamaleaui broke Apisai Koroisau’s jaw in two places.
The Tigers hooker played 80 minutes in Game I and was solid — but NSW will now have to look elsewhere for their No.9.
Rabbitohs gun Damien Cook, who has already played 15 games for the Blues, is the “logical” choice according to league legend Matty Johns.
The 31-year-old also delivered a big reminder of his damaging ball-running ability on Saturday afternoon despite his side going down to the Dragons.
Cook ran for 108 metres to go with six tackle breaks and two line breaks, with coach Jason Demetriou urging Fittler to pick up the phone.
“Hopefully Damien gets a call up, he has earnt that right in what he has done in the past and also his form and again showed tonight he is ready to go,” he said.
While Cook remains as the obvious pick to wear the No.9, league legend Bryan Fletcher believes Cowboys gun Reece Robson should be “in the conversation”.
“Cook is the logical choice, you’re a big fan of Reece Robson,” Johns said.
“Yeah, Reece Robson… I know he was around the camp a couple of years ago, I just think he is made for Origin,” Fletcher said.
“He’s tough and has good service out of the ruck, you would think (Cook) is the logical choice, but I think Robson deserves to be in the conversation.”
While the Cowboys enjoyed the bye in Round 15, Robson has been one of North Queensland’s best this season in a struggling side.
Fittler also opted against selecting two dummy-halves, with Queensland selection the duo of Ben Hunt and Harry Grant.
Both Johns and Fletcher urged the Blues to revert to the two-hooker system, with Robson potentially earning an Origin debut off the bench.
“Robson, possible 14 and Cameron McInnes as well,” Johns said.
“They can both play backrow as well if need be,” Fletcher said.
“I suppose the Blues were missing a bit of spark coming back through the middle in the second half with possibly another dummy-half there,” Hindmarsh said.
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Carnage for Tigers as Titans cruise | 02:28
WEBSTER TURNS THE WARRIORS INTO THE REAL DEAL
It’s always a good indication of where a team is at when an opposition player makes a point of complimenting them — and that’s exactly what Jarrod Croker did for the Warriors.
All the questions were about Croker’s milestone week in the Raiders’ post-game press conference but the veteran centre was sure to give the Warriors credit.
“They’ve got a lot of resilience this year, they’re showing a lot of backbone,” he said.
And indeed they do. Their defensive line was peppered during the first half of their 36-14 win on Friday. The Raiders were tackled 27 times in the Warriors’ 20 as opposed to the Warriors being tackled seven times in the Raiders’ 20.
But they shifted the momentum with an important try — while being one-man down — and then came out firing in the second half to run away with the game.
Coach Andrew Webster said he was “big time proud” after the game and highlighted his side’s goal line defence, while skipper Tohus Harris said the result “does wonders” for their belief.
But he stressed that the belief has always been there — and Webster is a big reason for that.
“I truly believe ‘Webby’ and the staff have built that belief from the first day of pre-season and it’s something that we’ve been able to continuously build,” he said.
“Each week we show a bit of evidence that we should believe in ourselves and tonight is another example of that.”
One player that’s full of confidence under Webster’s watch is star playmaker Shaun Johnson. He’s been in arguably career-best form this season and delivered once again for the Warriors, setting up three tries and then scoring one of his own.
But there was a moment off the field that Webster believes sums up Johnson’s mentality at the moment perfectly.
Johnson copped a head knock late in the game and had blood pouring from his face. He left the field for a HIA and passed with three minutes to go in the game. Despite the win already being sewn up, Johnson wanted to get back onto the field.
“With three minutes to go he said he wants to come back… that’s just where he’s at with his football,” Webster said.
“It’s not about the two tries — that’s a bonus. It’s about the toughness and that he wants to play with the boys.
“(I’m) proud of where he’s come with that sort of stuff and the boys are just thriving off the back of — not the tries or special stuff — but his toughness. It’s really cool to be a part of.”
The Warriors have now won eight of their first 14 games and sit fifth on the ladder. This time last year they had won four of their first 14 games and sat 15th on the ladder.
The dramatic improvement has Fox League expert Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach throwing Webster’s name up as an early contender for coach of the year.
“When you talk about coaches of the year, you’ve got to look at where teams have come from before he took over,” he said.
“You talk about the Warriors at the moment, he’s been outstanding. Even just their style, the way they play now — great to watch.”
New Zealand Warriors Press Conference | 08:28
SEIBOLD’S TWEAK ELEVATES SEA EAGLES STAR TO NEW LEVEL
For the vast majority of his career, Manly Sea Eagles star Reuben Garrick has spent his time on the wing and even deputised at fullback in the absence of Tom Trbojevic.
But in the space of 80 dazzling minutes against the Dolphins, the 25-year-old might have found his home in a position he had played just twice previously in his career.
Garrick was named as the right centre for Manly, but he looked like he’d played there his entire career against their Queensland rivals.
The Sea Eagles star bagged a hat-trick en route to his 30-point contribution as the hosts ran out 58-18 victors against the Dolphins at 4 Pines Park.
Garrick also provided three try assists and two line break assists to go with his 137 run metres.
So, has Manly coach Anthony Seibold found the perfect formula to unlock Garrick and take his game to a whole new level with just a simple positional change?
It might be too soon to say, but Seibold liked what he saw.
More importantly, Seibold claimed the man himself “was happy there” in the centres.
“He (Garrick) was really good tonight,” Seibold said.
“We think that’s his best position going forward. Again, we need to build some cohesion, some continuity there.
“But I really like the look of him there. We’ll go with that next week and see how we go.”
Sea Eagles smash Phins in huge home win | 02:24
RICKY COULD RUE CROKER CALL
Talk to enough people in rugby league and you’ll soon learn Ricky Stuart is the most competitive person to have ever played the game.
Stuart openly admits he’ll never get over his only grand final loss as a player in 1991 and good luck getting him to find silver linings in the 2003, 2004 and 2019 deciders.
So when he said he was willing to sacrifice two points to ensure Canberra legend Jarrod Croker enjoyed his 300th game week, it raised a few eyebrows.
Stuart controversially rested Croker in Round 14 to ensure he played his milestone match at home in Canberra.
There was a huge build up and almost 22,000 fans poured into GIO Stadium on Friday night, but the Warriors spoiled the party with a 36-14 upset.
“I’d rather have this week and lose the two points than have a sh***y week for Jarrod promoting his 300th and winning two points,” Stuart said after the game.
“If that costs us at the end of the year in the top four or top eight — so be it, that’s our fault. But I’d much prefer the week we had.”
But the ladder after 15 rounds is the closest it’s been in decades and there’s every chance Stuart will live to rue his decision.
NRL legend Cooper Cronk was critical of Stuart’s decision to rest Croker and said he hopes it doesn’t cost the club a finals berth.
“In terms of the comments around sacrificing the two points, and potentially the season, for Jarrod, well that’s only going to come out in the wash after this whole season finishes,” Cronk said.
“The Raiders started this season with only one win from their first five and they’ve now got seven wins in their last nine, they’ve dropped to seventh but they’re still tied second with a few games to play.
“But if they drop a few more games then maybe the two points do play a part.”
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KP gets dancing… Can’t be stopped! | 00:45
KNIGHTS’ BRUTAL REALITY
Knights coach Adam O’Brien has delivered his side a reality check after coming desperately close to beating competition heavyweights the Broncos.
Newcastle came within four points of the high-flying Brisbane side and were downed by a brilliant Ezra Mam flick pass in the closing stages of the game.
The four-point deficit has exposed a problem for O’Brien’s side in closing out games.
Four times this season the Knights have lost or dropped points in a scoreline within four-points, drawing with Manly in Round 5.
In Round 7, they went down by one point to the Panthers and again by only two points in Round 8 against the Cowboys before their latest slim loss to Brisbane.
While O’Brien was happy with the spark Kalyn Ponga provided, he urged his team to kick on in the future.
“We spoke about it in the sheds, we thought we would get a few pats on the back for the effort, but we are getting past that I hope now,” O’Brien said.
“We didn’t win, so we are disappointed. We have identified a couple things that we did well, it wasn’t all doom and gloom in there, but I don’t want us to be the team now that is content with just having a crack.
“There’s a footy team there and we have got to keep working hard at it. I thought (Kalyn Ponga) really kicked started us, especially in that second half.
“(He was) really busy, dangerous. There’s a fair bit to build … need to find ways to give him the ball in the right spots.”
– with NCA Newswire
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