Sam Walker is the closest thing we’ve had to Allan Langer. I’d pay to watch him play every week


Dolphins are sinking

I’m worried about the Dolphins.

They’ve had a fantastic year so far, but looking at their draw for the rest of the season, it’s hard to see them making the finals. They play only a couple of teams outside the top eight before the end of the season, and one of them is the Broncos. It hardly screams they’re going to make their first finals appearance.

Thursday night is massive game for them against the Rabbitohs, who are making a late run at the finals.

Latrell Mitchell is a huge loss for South Sydney, and I’d go as far as to say it’s a 12- to 14-point difference for them. That’s how important he is to the side.

But the credit for Souths’ turnaround has to be shared across a lot of people, most notably their forward pack. They were off the pace at the start of the year, but they’ve had a huge attitude shift in the past six weeks.

Just watch their scramble defence and you can see the difference. While Cameron Murray is in State of Origin camp, I can see them doing enough to cover his absence.

I think the winning team will have to score at least 24 points. Ball movement will be a feature, and it has the possibility to offer plenty of points.

Jack Bostock looks a super athlete and his return is a big boost to the hosts. He’s tough to beat in the air and I wouldn’t be surprised if he became a representative player.

The two fullbacks – Jye Gray and Trai Fuller – have to be the smallest players in the NRL. But what they lack in size, they more than make up for in pure speed.

Latrell Mitchell embraces his No. 1 replacement Jye Gray.

Latrell Mitchell embraces his No. 1 replacement Jye Gray.Credit: Steve Siewert

It seems to be a bit of a trend across the game, with Gold Coast’s Keano Kini and Melbourne’s Sua Fa’alogo also small players with big futures.

This game will come down to who capitalises on half chances and scrambles the best. There is not much between the teams.

Joey’s tip: Dolphins by 6
First try-scorer: Alex Johnston
Man of the match: Kodi Nikorima

The defence (never) rests

It will come as no surprise that when I watch rugby league, the majority of the time I’m doing it through the lens of how teams attack. It’s what I love about the game, and studying how playmakers try to undo a defence is fascinating.

Last Friday, I was sitting at home and watched the defence of the Panthers very closely. I was blown away by it and the system they use: how fit they were, how much effort goes into it, how quickly they move, the physicality in each tackle. It was phenomenal.

The Broncos managed just one try, a piece of individual brilliance from Reece Walsh. That was it. They didn’t really look like scoring apart from that.

It staggers me how they can transition from an attack-minded game one week to being more defence minded the next. They don’t miss a beat – and Nathan Cleary is still injured.

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I’ve been spruiking the Broncos’ chances of winning the title all year, but I’ve got to jump off now. To me, there are two main contenders: the Panthers and Roosters. The Storm are still in the mix, but they need to get Cameron Munster back.

When you consider the representative players the Panthers have lost in the past few years – Matt Burton, Kurt Capewell, Viliame Kikau, Api Koroisau, Stephen Crichton and Spencer Leniu – it’s a phenomenal effort from coach Ivan Cleary. They’re an extraordinary club.

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