Forget the two tries scored by Nathan Cleary. Ignore the brilliance of James Tedesco. And disregard the snapping tackles of Jake Trbojevic. They may get a mention when the Blues take the positives out of game two to prepare for the State of Origin series decider in Brisbane.
What the NSW hierarchy will focus on is three minutes of precision and commitment, guided by Cleary, as the blueprint for NSW as they search for a rare victory over the Queenslanders on their turf in a decider.
The Blues have highlighted a huge Cleary kick down-field in the 56th minute – that was very nearly a 40-20 – which was miraculously saved by Selwyn Cobbo.
The defensive set that followed from NSW was impeccable. Big efforts by Liam Martin, Trbojevic, Damien Cook, Cameron Murray and Stephen Crichton meant Daly Cherry-Evans had to produce a clearing kick from inside his 30-metre line.
The Blues then attacked, before Cleary produced another pinpoint kick and Crichton trapped Kalyn Ponga in the in-goal area, giving the Blues a rare repeat set. In the following set of six, Jarome Luai squeezed through the Queensland defence, past Jeremiah Nanai and Dane Gagai, to score a crucial try, giving Luai the Origin moment he had been craving. It was also redemption after Felise Kaufusi got past him to score in the first half.
More than that, it all happened when the Blues were in front 20-12 and the game was very much in the balance. NSW say those three or so minutes were the momentum changers in the game; when the Blues got reward for their previous dominance.
(Clockwise from main) Jarome Luai, Nathan Cleary and Liam Martin played crucial roles in a perfect three-minute spell by NSW.Credit:NRL Photos, Getty
What isn’t lost on the Blues is the size of the victory. They are not celebrating that at all. The sin-binning of Kaufusi was huge.
“The game was in the balance at that point,” coach Brad Fittler said. “Queensland were in front. We have not forgotten that and we are not getting carried away at all.”
Trent Robinson is worldly, well read and a good judge of character. But you don’t need to be a philosopher or fluent in French to know he is taking a big risk in signing Matt Lodge.
It’s not a Cooper Cronk playing with a busted shoulder in a grand final risk, but it’s a season-defining moment for Robinson and one that could have broader ramifications. The club is risking the Roosters way.
Someone tried to sell it as a Sonny Bill Williams-style signing. It could not be any more different. SBW changed the Roosters’ culture in the best possible way. The Lodge signing is challenging it.
The Roosters have a sponsor that regularly gives away its position on the front of their jumper to raise money for charity. They are a shrewd organisation with victory in their DNA. There is a reason the Roosters said no to Lodge on at least two occasions when he wanted to join in previous years. In a past meeting with Robinson there was something that didn’t sit well with the Roosters mentor.
He clearly saw something different this time around; something that will allow Lodge to play alongside the best young talent in the game in Joseph Suaalii. And something that the game’s premier on-field leader, James Tedesco, is willing to take a gamble on, too. After all, Tedesco and the Roosters’ leadership group is one of the strongest in the NRL.
Lodge must have done a lot of growing up in a hurry because I’m certain he wanted to join the Roosters in the past 12 months and was knocked back.
It would be a shame if the club has compromised the standards built by Robinson, Williams, Boyd Cordner, Mitch Aubusson and Jake Friend because they are having an average season and they are desperate to avoid missing the finals for the first time since 2016.
The truth about Lodge, who has signed until the end of the season with the Bondi club, is this: he has worked hard on himself since being arrested in New York in 2015 following a violent home invasion. Lodge was originally charged with felony burglary causing injury after terrorising a family, but escaped jail after entering a guilty plea to the lesser charge of reckless assault.
Lodge is not a risk when it comes to alcohol or drugs. He can control his temper. He had a run in with Jack Bird at the Broncos in 2019, but still showed restraint. A heated argument with Warriors owner Mark Robinson last year was not his fault. At the Warriors, Lodge worked well with the Polynesian players, spending time with them outside football.
Matt Lodge will need to realise that the likes of Jared Waerea Hargreaves and Victor Radley are the big dogs at the Roosters.Credit:NRL Photos
However, Lodge has a significant downside: he has a big opinion of his ability and what he has achieved in the game. He is extremely opinionated and, if he doesn’t like the way someone is doing something, he will make it clear that he disagrees.
That approach has extended to NRL coaches. It can lead to division in the group if he finds people willing to listen to his views. It’s not done with malice; it’s just how he is. This is the risk of bringing Lodge to an NRL club; more so than him going on a wild-eyed bender. It’s no coincidence that the young Broncos forwards began to grow once Lodge left last year.
Lodge will need to realise that the likes of Jared Waerea Hargreaves and Victor Radley – multiple premiership winners – are the big dogs at the Roosters. Challenge them and he will be watching rather than playing.
Robinson must be aware of all of this. He knows who he is signing. He is signing a player who can take on – and beat – the biggest and most damaging player in an opposition team. He is signing a player with menace and a big motor who knows his football.
He will get Lodge for a short stint. Even then it’s a risk.
It’s also worth noting that the Eels were doing their due diligence on Lodge. It’s unclear whether the Roosters beat them to his signature, or they were of the view he isn’t worth the risk.
Lodge was contacted for a comment but did not respond.
Doesn’t Luke good
Luke Keary is said to be unhappy that his medical diagnosis has been made public when he certainly didn’t give permission for it to be. What the Roosters have been telling people is a different story; that last week Keary was suffering headaches after a contact session. He is clearly rattled by his latest head knock – where he was forced from the field and didn’t return against the Storm on June 11 – but has certainly not given up on returning to the game.
Keary had five concussions in 14 months in 2018 and 2019. He is said to be upset at letting his teammates down by not being able to play, and he was angry with himself that he pulled out late before the clash with the Eels in the last round.
This column wishes him all the best as he works out his future. It’s a tough time for a very successful player. With three titles to his name, he has nothing to prove and he now simply needs to weigh up his motivation to keep going against any potential long-term health risks.
Victor takes flight
The Blues are angry at suggestions they somehow hid Victor Radley from the media after his dressing room incident with Joseph Suaalii following Origin II where he simulated a sex act on the teen star.
NSW management became aware of it after the game, but Radley was not kept away from the media. Nor did he sneak out of Western Australia as the media waited for him. Once he knew he was not in the final 19 for Origin II, he and Clint Gutherson booked themselves on the red-eye flight to Sydney on Sunday night.
Sevens stars break new ground
The round 25 NRL clash between arch-rivals Sydney Roosters and South Sydney will officially be the first game played on the pitch of the new $828 million Allianz Stadium at Moore Park.
But they won’t be the first players to have a run on the new turf. Australia’s women’s sevens stars Madison Higgins-Ashby, Sariah Paki and Bienne Terita have beaten them to it.
Madison Higgins-Ashby, Bienne Terita and Sariah Paki were the first to set foot on the new Allianz Stadium turf, which is being grown on a turf farm at Pitt Town.Credit:Phil Hillyard
The trio trained on the turf at Evergreen Turf farm in Pitt Town during the week, prior to it being laid at the stadium this month.
The playing surface will be cut, lifted, transported in one-tonne rolls and laid at the stadium, ready for the first confirmed events on August 28 (free community day), September 2 (Roosters v Rabbitohs), September 3 (Wallabies v Springboks) and September 6 (Matildas v Canada).
With the 40-year anniversary of the Illawarra Steelers in full swing, their first captain, John Dorahy, has revealed the reason the club folded.
“In my view it was because as a club we were scared,” he said. “I know we had financial issues and that sort of thing, but we were scared to go out and buy a big player that would make the club into a force that couldn’t be removed. We came in at the same time as the Raiders, and look what they did: they bought Mal Meninga and they grew into a premium club, a premiership-winning club because they went down that path.”
The Steelers’ celebration has been organised by Bob Millward, and a range of greats will attend.
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