Talking Points, Round 1, upsets, Sharks, Nicho Hynes, Panthers, Cleary, Dragons, Zac Lomax, Radiers, Zac Hosking, Storm Jonah Pezet


Any concerns about the usual suspects once again marching to September this year have been quickly dispelled with Round 1 producing a whopping six upsets.

The Sharks wasted no time proving they’re the real deal in 2024, while the three-time reigning premiers Penrith are off to another slow start.

It was all smiles for Dragons coach Shane Flanagan in his first match in charge in five years as the Red V looked a completely different side to recent years.

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Ricky’s Raiders also made a mockery of the pundits tipping them for the wooden spoon, while Craig Bellamy’s incredible Round 1 record continued.

Read on for all the key NRL Talking Points from Round 1.

CLOSE COMPETITION BECKONS IN 2024

The experts tipped 2024 to be the tightest competition in years and it’s already living up to the billing with upsets galore in Round 1.

The Sea Eagles and Roosters left the Vegas bookies with egg on their face but the real boilovers came back home over the weekend.

Nobody saw the Raiders blasting 28-12 past the Knights who were led by reigning Dally M Medal winner Kalyn Ponga in front of a packed home crowd.

Across the ditch it was a sell-out in Auckland but the Warriors faithful couldn’t get them home as the Sharks recovered from two early tries to win it 16-12.

Next it was reigning premiers Penrith who went down 8-0 in Melbourne as Craig Bellamy extended his extraordinary Round 1 winning record to 22 straight seasons.

The Eels dispatched the Bulldogs in the first clash of the round that went to script, but the Dragons quickly flipped it again with a huge 28-4 upset win over the Titans.

That marked a sixth upset of the weekend before the Cowboys bucked the trend and delivered on their favourites tag against the Dolphins in the final game on Sunday.

“It just goes to show that rugby league will toss up unexpected results, we can look at the pre-season, look at last season and try and get a form guide together on how we think this will all play out but the greatest game of all just proves that anything can happen,” Yvonne Sampson said on Fox League.

The Sharks, Dragons and Raiders all produced upsets on the road. GettySource: Getty Images

THE PERFECT SHARKS START

“Flat track bullies” and “pretenders” are just some of the words pundits have used to describe the Sharks over the past two seasons.

Craig Fitzgibbon’s Sharks lost seven of 10 games against teams that finished in the top eight last season.

So their clash against the Warriors was the perfect way to kickstart a revolution and spark a charge towards a potential premiership.

The Sharks were hammered from all corners in Auckland, but somehow managed to find a way to win in front of a sold out crowd.

It was a far cry from performances that saw them concede 25.8 points against top eight sides in 2023, beating a team who reached the preliminary finals.

They defended in impressive fashion to close out the game, making 17 more tackles than their opponents in the final 10 minutes.

In the first half the Warriors also had 63 per cent of possession and looked like they were set to pile on the points.

However, the Sharks stayed in the game and rugby league legend Michael Ennis was proud of their performance, backing them to build into the season.

“That is a season builder that one, the grit they showed, the toughness after that early onslaught from the Warriors,” Michael Ennis said.

“To be able to wrestle back that momentum and particularly in this game, they had to go over there and set the tone for the rest of the season.

“They had to ambush the Warriors on home soil and they had to do it defensively, and it was led by Nicho Hynes.

“Deserved winners, what a spirited performance.”

Both Craig Fitzgibbon and Nicho Hynes also hailed Cronulla’s fortitude in defence.

“Last time I was sitting here was after a loss in the semi and everyone was so excited to write about us losing a semi,”

“But I said at the time we were growing up… we had to earn that tonight. A lot of field position was against us.

“A long way to go in the season though, it’s important to know that we can get better.”

“Everyone wants talks about our attack last year, but I’m just so proud of our defence. I think everyone can see how proud we are of our defence because it showed,” Hynes said.

Sharks prove themselves with gritty win | 01:36

LOMAX SWITCH THE RIGHT MOVE

Zac Lomax’s new era as a winger was kicked off in the best possible way in the Dragons’ upset 28-4 win over the Titans.

Many punters had tipped the Dragons for the wooden spoon this year after a horror 2023 season in which the club not only finished 16th but Anthony Griffin was sacked and Ben Hunt requested an immediate release.

But under the guidance of new coach Shane Flanagan the Red V looked like a new football side. There’s been personnel changes with Kyle Flanagan and Hame Sele among the new recruits, as well as positional changes.

One of them is Lomax’s switch to the wing to allow Jack Bird to play centre — where he played when he won the 2016 premiership with the Sharks under Flanagan.

Lomax is not happy about the move and even Flanagan admitted ahead of Rd 1 that the 24-year-old is “upset” about it. But his performance in Saturday’s win only justified the coach’s decision.

Lomax finished with a try, two linebreaks, 10 tackle busts and a game high of 255 metres from 24 runs.

That performance has confirmed for Cooper Cronk that moving Lomax to the wing was a “good move” because it’s forced Lomax to work a little harder.

“He played centre for most of his career at the Dragons and liked to play freely, liked to do things on his own terms,” Cronk said on Fox League.

“There’s rumours that he sort of wanted out after Flanagan moved him to one of the toughest positions on the field…

“(But) he’s turned up and done the job because he’s probably had honest feedback from the coach like ‘listen, this is where you’re at, this is what you need to improve in and if you do all these things I’ll pick you in the side but I want to see something from you.’

“He’s gone out and when he scores his try there’s a bit of excitement, a bit of emotion, a bit of something in his reaction. He had a very good game, so well done to him.

“In the centres you can be a flashy player, but on the wing as a yardage player you have to roll up the sleeves and get a job done.

“That’s one way you earn the respect of your teammates and coach.”

Flanagan era begins with HUGE win | 06:10

HOSKING’S DREAM DEBUT

When Zac Hosking signed with the Raiders, it looked unlikely he’d break into the starting 17.

But after a calf injury to captain Elliott Whitehead, Hosking was thrust into the run on side and delivered on club debut.

The 27-year-old has only 26 NRL games under his belt, having only two seasons in first grade before he was signed by Ricky Stuart.

Whitehead plans to hang up the boots beyond the Raiders current campaign and Stuart is looking for the heir to his throne.

Having won a premiership with the Panthers in 2023, Hosking was seeking a starting spot and he’s boosted his chances beyond the 2024 season.

The Raiders have previously been in the market for an edge forward and their public pursuits of David Fifita and Luciano Leilua have been well publicised.

But should Hosking continue to prove his worth in the nation’s capital, Stuart could utilise those funds elsewhere and potentially target a partner for Jamal Fogarty.

Hosking finished Thursday night’s clash with a try, a try assist, a line break assist and 71 running metres to go with 32 tackles.

Rugby league legend Matty Johns hailed his performance and admitted he was proud of the backrower’s road to success.

“Got to give a wrap, Zac Hosking, the last couple of years he’s been outstanding,” Johns said.

“Was a really big night for a lot of Knights juniors. Danny Levi, Zac, Joe Tapine, Pasami Saulo, Hudson Young, Tom Starling.

“I’m really happy for Hosking, a couple of years ago he was working on a building site, got given a chance by Kevin Walters.

“Went to the Panthers, won a competition and now has gone to the Raiders and has played great.”

Young surges Raiders to upset Knights | 02:06

COWBOYS AND DOLPHINS BOOKEND LADDER

The Cowboys looked like the 2022 version, while some bad old habits returned for the Dolphins in their 43-18 first up performance in Round 1.

Matty Johns believes the Cowboys are back to what made them such a tough team to beat two seasons ago.

“The Cowboys were really good, fit and fast,” Johns said on Sunday Night with Matty Johns.

“It looked like the Cowboys of 2022.”

Bryan Fletcher believes the Cowboys have made starting fast a priority after they surged to the top of the table after the first round of fixtures.

“They got off to a good start and that’s what they would have been talking about in the off-season,” Fletcher said.

“As we know they came good late, but their start to the season was pretty ordinary.

“Tom Dearden it looks like captaincy is suiting him.”

Johns singled out Dearden and Zac Laybutt for special mention.

“I thought he was fantastic, he was really, really good,” Johns asaid of Dearden.

“Zac Laybutt the PNG international was very good.”

As good as the Cowboys were there were some worrying signs from the Dolphins defensively, which is an area they struggled with last season.

“The Dolphins’ defence it looked like they were marking up man on man, but the Cowboys had stretched them, so there was big gaps everywhere, particularly on that left edge,” Nathan Hindmarsh said.

“There was huge gaps and a bit of footwork from the Cowboys players and they were making half breaks left, right and centre.”

Johns believes the Dolphins need to show more urgency and aggression in defence.

“That first try was a real concern because the centre was tucked back with the winger,” Johns said.

“They played the Roosters last year and got the win first up, but you have got to say they didn’t show the same application as last year.”

The Dolphins now face the rejuvenated Dragons at home in Round 2, while the Cowboys take on the winless Knights at home.

Cowboys the blueprint for new NRL rules | 05:25

MUNSTER’S CONFIDENT REPLACEMENT

A competent display from young half Jonah Pezet in the Storm’s hard-fought 8-0 season opening win over the Panthers on Friday night has alleviated the need for coach Craig Bellamy to rush back injured superstar Cameron Munster.

Munster is out indefinitely with a groin injury after slipping in the shower on the team’s recent trip to Fiji and it provided a chance for 21-year-old Pezet to show what strides he has made over the preseason.

Pezet played a crucial role in the game’s only try, putting in a well weighted cross field kick for Xavier Coates to palm down to Reimis Smith, who touched down.

Playing at five-eighth, Pezet shared the kicking duties with Jahrome Hughes, putting in eight kicks for 222 metres and had 55 run metres.

It was on the defensive side of the ball that really impressed Bellamy.

Pezet had 19 tackles and a major say in the organisation of a defensive unit that stunningly kept the three-time defending champion Panthers scoreless.

“Being brutally honest, I don’t know how important he saw defence last year, but he sees it as important this year,” Bellamy said.

“I thought he done a real good job defensively too because he’s a smart footy player and he’s a really good kicker of the ball, so I think he’s got a really good career ahead of him, but, as I said, he would’ve got exposed tonight if he wasn’t vested in defending well and that’s what he did and really played his part well.

“I think he’s learnt a bit from last year.”

A key part of Pezet’s role was to take on some of the leadership aspects of Munster’s game.

“He’s a confident kid … I’m sure he would’ve been bossing a few of them around out there,” Bellamy said.

“Some young halfbacks, 20 or 21, sort of get bossed around themselves, but Jonah don’t lack confidence.

“He’s a smart footy player, so he would’ve been doing a lot of directing around there tonight.”

Bellamy couldn’t answer if Munster will be available for Storm’s blockbuster clash with the Warriors at AAMI Park next Saturday night.

What he does know for certain is that he will not be rushed back.

“I’m sort of sick of asking (if he will be ready) because at the end of the day, it’s good one day and then not so good the next,” Bellamy said.

“We just need to make sure that he’s 100 per cent when he comes back because it’s a long, hard season.

“If we can have a fit Cameron Munster in our team, that’s going to help strengthen us.”

It was heartwarming to see Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen play the full 80 minutes with confidence after coming back from a horror leg injury in last year’s finals.

“He was very strong, he didn’t shirk anything at all,” Bellamy enthused.

“He was the tough Paps that we’ve all come to love a couple of years ago before he had all of those injuries.”

Storm’s incredible Rd 1 record continues | 02:40

PANTHERS OFF TO SLOW START… AGAIN

It’s worth remembering the Panthers last year lost both the World Club Challenge and Round 1, but ultimately won a third straight premiership.

The premiers have had the exact same start this year after falling short against the Storm on Friday night.

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary was particularly unimpressed with the way his team finished the game as they squandered a host of chances in the second half.

“Obviously not a great performance,” Cleary said.

“At the end we just panicked, well I don’t know if we panicked, but we were all over the shop really.”

Cleary added they were up against a quality side but said travelling to England for the World Club Challenge was an excuse.

“We played a good team who is hard to beat down here,” he said.

“They’re not going to lose too many games down here, well they usually don’t.

“If you don’t quite get it right, which we didn’t, you come up short.”

Taylan May seemed the most likely to break through the Storm defence with his speed and evasiveness tough to stop.

The 22-year-old’s performance at centre was one of the most encouraging signs of the night for the Panthers.

“He definitely looks very promising,” Cleary said.

Panthers deflated with round 1 loss | 04:13

– with NCA Newswire



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