Players and coaches may not like the rules about high contact but they have to abide by them because it can be costly when defenders get their tackles wrong.
If you are slightly off when you make contact, you are going to run the risk of being sin-binned or sent off.
The NRL makes no apologies for being focused around preventing head injuries and concussion, they’re going to lean on the side of caution.
Everyone knows the parameters around if you come in hard and high, and get it wrong, you can be sitting down quick smart.
Even the old mitigating factor of the ball carrier falling into the tackle doesn’t hold the sway that it used to. There used to be a consideration for that.
With a send-off, a referee needs to be absolutely certain of the contact and the intent and with the two on the weekend, probably a sin bin would have been sufficient.
But Nathan Brown on Thursday night for the Roosters and Moeaki Fotuaika for Gold Coast the following night both put themselves at risk of getting sent off by sailing too close to the wind.
Valentine Holmes put himself in that position for the Cowboys. He got sin-binned a couple of weeks ago, didn’t adjust his sights and the same thing happened the next game and now he’s serving a four-match ban.
Every defender runs out of the line, or should be, with intent and if I was coaching I’d be telling them to do that but when they want to put on a big shot, they’ve got to aim lower, as a ball and all tackle, lower than the chest.
They can’t be looking to make contact higher than that because if there’s any late footwork or their timing is off, the consequences could be harsh.
Tackling is all about timing and footwork. Some clubs still aren’t getting that right.
It’s hard when fatigue is high – the game is arguably too quick for players to get those adjustments right all the time.
Six-again makes the game more exciting and it allows the attacking team more time and space but it’s a lot harder for defenders to shut it down.
Especially when you have big lumbering forwards trying to stop speedy little guys around the ruck, they’re always at risk of getting it wrong because they’ve got to act quickly.
Clear top three a cut above
The three teams at the top of the ladder are there because they’ve been able to get the balance right over the course of a long season.
You’ve got to have a grinding mentality during games to stick to what you know works best but also be able to seize on the opportunities when they present themselves and not be conservative.
The game is quicker in the six-again era and you have to take advantage of a team under fatigue when you have them on the ropes after a few repeat sets.
It’s hard to see anyone preventing Penrith getting a three-peat – they have got nearly every part of the game covered in terms of how they play, their aggression, how direct they play, how organised they are when they get in the attacking part of the field.
The sequences and the combinations they run are silky smooth.
Everyone thought they’d lose a little bit in attack with Api Koroisau joining Wests Tigers this year but Mitch Kenny has been holding his hands up in that department as well as most hookers in the comp and he’s probably enhanced their defence in the middle of the field.
Even when they have someone like Izack Tago out in the centres, they slot Zac Hosking in out wide and he does a great job for them.
They’ve got depth and versatility and only a few serious injuries could stop them from here if they keep this form up.
Brisbane are playing with more speed and power than pretty much anyone. They were very impressive in beating the Cowboys on the road on Saturday, particularly given they were without Adam Reynolds.
Kevin Walters with the way he spoke pre-game had instilled a lot of confidence in Jock Madden and he didn’t have to overplay his hand because all of their marquee guys stepped up like Reece Walsh, Patrick Carrigan, Payne Haas and Kurt Capewell.
Carrigan seems like he’s got better, not slowed down, after Origin and Haas is arguably the same.
They look extra motivated from how their season fell apart late last season. They’ve clearly put in the hard yards in the off-season because they look fit and hungry even though they had a heavy burden during the Origin period.
Brisbane are the second-best defence in the NRL now, six points less than last year.
I saw them in a trial in the pre-season and I remember thinking then that they looked super fit and you need to be in order to make the improvements they’ve made in 2023.
The Warriors got that mix between grinding and flair right on Friday night against the Titans.
Gold Coast gave them a good run for their money, especially being down to 12 for a lot of the game, but the Warriors did the tough toil for the majority of the game and then guys like Shaun Johnson and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak cashed in late with the flash stuff.
Fringe trio falling below expectations
The Cowboys, Parramatta and Souths are expected to be up there contending again but they haven’t quite delivered on what everyone was thinking at the start of the year.
Their marquee players haven’t quite stepped up in the important moments.
Souths have been prelim finalists for five years in a row but it looks like they’ll be coming from a fair way back if they want to even get that far this time around.
I don’t think they were complacent about Cronulla but they weren’t urgent enough, maybe thinking it was just going to happen for them now that they’ve got everyone on deck.
You can’t keep waiting for it to happen, you’ve got to put in the extra work that the top three have been doing.
Parramatta have joined the Cowboys and Rabbitohs on 26 points in a three-way tie for eighth and even though they came home late to get over the Dragons, they’re still walking the tightrope.
All is not lost for those three but it’s now or never for those teams to get on a roll.
Raiders’ defence gets them out of jail
Canberra are another team that’s not where they need to be even though they’re fifth on for-and-against behind Melbourne.
They just did enough to get past the Tigers on Sunday and Canberra did well to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Newcastle.
The Tigers were unlucky not to score in the final minutes and some tremendous scramble defence by the Raiders on their try line ultimately won them the game.
Sharks dey dire predictions
Craig Fitzgibbon deserves a wrap for sticking solid with Nicho Hynes instead of shifting him to fullback with Will Kennedy out.
He didn’t panic after three straight losses and they scored a couple of really high-level tries putting the ball through the hands.
Connor Tracey did well at the back, Braydon Trindall was dangerous at five-eighth and it shows you can never assume anything in the NRL.
Roosters back in full flight
The Roosters were too aggressive the previous week against Brisbane but they got their discipline right on Thursday in their win over Manly, other than the send-off of course.
Their quality players stood up, Drew Hutchison looked a good option at halfback and they’re back in the finals hunt again.
They’ve jumped ahead of the Titans and Dolphins and although we won’t put a thick red texta through those two just yet, the old HB pencil is through them and one more loss and it’s all over for them.