Garry Schofield gives his thoughts on the opening round of action in the NRL.
What a superb start to the NRL season we were able to enjoy.
As Melbourne began the post-Cameron Smith era, Ryan Papenhuyzen popped up with another brilliant performance as the Storm started their title defence with victory over South Sydney.
It was no surprise really, because we all saw his development at a fine fullback last season, which ended with him winning the Clive Churchill Medal for his man-of-the-match contribution to the Grand Final victory over Penrith.
Not bad, to say he only made his senior debut in 2019!
He’s taken on the goalkicking duties from Smith, adding another string to his bow and showing he’s not worried by pressure, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he progresses.
Papenhuyzen reminds me of the great Darren Lockyer, and I can see him being an effective stand-off as time goes on.
But for now he wears the number one shirt and, if he keeps up this kind of form, Mal Meninga is going to have some additional thinking to do ahead of the World Cup.
Papenhuyzen has represented Australia in Nines, and will surely be knocking on the door for a call-up for the next international squad.
Of course Mal already has some superb options at fullback, such as Latrell Mitchell at Souths, James Tedesco – a hat-trick hero as the Roosters kicked-off their campaign by taking Manly apart – and Tom Trbojevic, who is currently out with a hamstring injury and will have been badly missed by the Sea Eagles.
It’s the kind of dilemma a coach is pleased to have.
There were also solid starts for Penrith and Canberra, now of course without John Bateman, while it was interesting to see Nathan Brown get the better of his fellow former St Helens coach Justin Holbrook as New Zealand Warriors comfortably saw off Gold Coast, who have been much hyped.
Then there was Brisbane, who built up a good lead against Parramatta, only to lose 24-16.
Two other things struck me.
One was the efficiency of the referees.
The return to one on-field official hasn’t had any negative effect in my view, and in virtually all the matches, the man in the middle was hardly noticed, which is how it should be.
The second was the professional way the start of the season has been handled by Andrew Abdo and Peter V’landys, who led the way last year when it came to managing the resumption of top-level sport.
I wonder whether we’ll be saying the same kind of things after the opening round of Super League?
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