VB NSW CUP: 2015 MID SEASON REVIEW
PENRITH PANTHERS (1ST)
The Penrith Panthers stepped into first place last weekend with the best defensive record in the VB NSW Cup. The defending premiers line up a vastly different side to last season's premiership-winning team but their resiliency in defence shows they have the players to win back-to-back titles. Despite sitting in first position, the Panthers’ attack has been inconsistent in the early stages of the season as they are ranked third last in points scored.
Coach Garth Brennan says: “We haven’t really come into a rhythm as far as our attack goes and we haven’t been consistent but that probably comes down to the amount of injuries and the different combinations we’ve had in our spine.
“We’re the best defensive side in the competition which is always pleasing as defence is a reflection of your attitude.”
Standout players: Sam Anderson has been very consistent this year; he is regarded within the team as one of the leaders of the forward pack and performs strongly in every game he plays in. Brendan Attwood has also been a standout. Attwood is a part timer on the team and is the ultimate competitor. He is a huge factor to the Panthers’ outstanding defence. Attwood is ranked eighth in tackles made with 343. Sam Scarlett also leads the competition in 40/20s with three this season.
Predicted finish: 1st - best defence in the competition whilst being the defending premiers
Mounties had an excellent start to the season with their first loss coming in Round Eight against the Panthers. They sat atop the ladder for the best part of 11 rounds until last week after losing to the Canterbury Bulldogs. They lead the way in attack, averaging over 24 points per game, which is a competition high. After their fantastic opening to the season, Mounties have struggled recently only winning one game from their past four matches.
Coach Steve Antonelli says: “We’re a step ahead of where we thought we’d be. We started the season well, probably the last couple of games we’ve dropped off but so far [I am] really happy. [Our major positive is] our attitude week to week, our competitive attitude has been good.”
Standout players: Mitchell Barnett has been a powerful asset to Mounties’ forward pack this season with the sixth most hit ups with 108 and the 10th most tackle breaks with 32. Antonelli also nominated Josh McCrone and Bill Tupou as standouts. Tupou has the sixth most metres gained with 1,465 and the ninth most tackle breaks with 33.
Predicted finish: 2nd – one of the most impressive teams of 2015, with talent right across the park. They have the ability to string wins together and gain momentum
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS (3rd)
The New Zealand Warriors are desperate to replicate their home success on the road. Sitting in third place, the Warriors have been largely inconsistent so far. Despite their record, the Warriors have not strung more than two consecutive wins. The Warriors won all five games at home, but only two of their six matches away. The Stacey Jones coached side has shown they have the capabilities to beat any team in the VB NSW Cup but must improve on the road to be a constant force in the competition.
Coach Stacey Jones says: “It’s been a bit of a mixed bag. At home we’ve been very good and on the road we’ve struggled a bit – it’s just an area we’ve got to address. [The major positives] have been our home record, and we’ve had some consistency in the halves with Api Pewhairangi and Sam Cook playing every game.”
Standout players: Api Pewhairangi has been excellent. He leads the competition in linebreaks with 11, and is eighth in linebreak assists with six. He also has a competition-high three charge downs and has kicked 24 goals. Dominique Peyroux and Charlie Gubb have also stood out.
Predicted finish: 5th – unstoppable at home but may struggle with their away fixture.
WYONG ROOS (4TH)
The Roos have had a solid start to the season, winning four of their opening six games but have struggled to string consecutive wins together in maintaining weekly consistency. They currently hold a two-game win streak after their three-match losing streak. A major positive for the Roos is that they have the second best defensive record in the competition.
Coach Rip Taylor says: “We’re a little up and down but we’re staying in touch so that’s always positive. We were way off the pace when we played the Bears a few weeks ago and the boys are starting to come together, so in that regard it’s been okay.”
Standout players: Roos captain, hooker Mitch Williams, has been one of the VB NSW Cup’s best in 2015 in both attack and defence. He has the most linebreak assists in the competition with 16, has the second most dummy half runs with 74, and the second most try assists with 13. He also tops the tackle count for the competition with a massive 439. Other standouts include Jack Siejka, Lagi Setu, and Eloni Vunakece.
Predicted finish: 3rd - strong defensive side and have the ability to score points across the park.
NEWTOWN JETS (5th)
The Jets possess a solid 6-5 record with consistency their season detriment. They lost their opening two games before winning four in a row and knocking off the defending premiers in the process. Coach Greg Matterson’s side has not been able to string back-to-back wins together since then but have shown they have the potential to beat anyone on their day.
Coach Greg Matterson says: “When we’re on and when we’ve got our full confidence we can match it with anybody in the competition, but we’re still looking to find that groove and get that going week to week.”
Standout players: Matterson believes that Tim Robinson and Blake Ayshford have been particularly strong for the Jets this year. Robinson has been a workhorse in defence, already notching up 340 tackles, which is the ninth most in the competition. Andrew Pearn has also been a solid performer.
Predicted finish: 6th – have the talent and ability to be there come finals time but need to maintain consistency
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS (6th)
Matt Lantry’s Knights have had an up-and-down start to 2015, losing only one game between Rounds Four to Nine but have not recorded victory since then. There are two major positives for the Knights, being that they are ranked fourth in defence and that they contested every game that they have lost. They only lost by more than six points on just one occasion. The Knights face a tough fortnight taking on the Panthers and Mounties. However, a favourable fixture sees the Knights play teams below them on the ladder up until round 19, which is a good opportunity to climb the ladder.
Coach Matt Lantry says: “It’s been a mixed bag. We’ve had some good performances and put some good wins together. On top of that we’ve had some poor performances. Our inconsistency in playing for 80 minutes is our greatest challenge at the moment.”
Standout players: Lantry believes that Chanel Mata’utia has been fantastic for the Knights this year, as an experienced campaigner that performs in any position he plays in. His kick returns and finishing ability has been a great asset for Newcastle, and Lantry believes that he is not far off an NRL appearance. The other player he nominated was James Taylor, who is a young workhorse in defence and one of the cornerstones of the Knights pack.
Predicted finish: 4th – excellent all round team. If they learn to play consistent football every week they will be a major premiership threat.
ILLAWARRA CUTTERS (7TH)
Scott Logan’s Illawarra Cutters did not start the season as they would have hoped, recording five losses in their opening six matches. They have improved with three wins from their past four games, and have already had two byes. Despite sitting in seventh, the Cutters have the third best defensive record conceding 214 points. However, they have played one less game than most other teams, and having fewer byes in hand could negatively impact them at the back end of the season.
Coach Scott Logan says: “So far I’d probably rate them a little inconsistent. We’ve shown glimpses of what we can do. On a positive, the games that we’ve lost we’ve pretty much lost ourselves. We’re obviously not where we want to be around the mid point of the season but we’re taking confidence of knowing we’re not getting outplayed. We’re just not executing and building enough pressure at certain points of the game.”
Standout players: Justin Hunt has been dynamic in the VB NSW Cup for the last few years and the start of 2015 has been no different. He’s scored seven tries this season, which is a remarkable effort considering the top try scorer for the competition Kiti Glymin is in the same backline with 11. He also has the seventh most tackle breaks with 34 and has the third most kick receives with 69. Rory O’Brien has been outstanding for the Cutters forward pack in receiving high praise from Logan.
Predicted finish: 9th – show promise but lack consistency. Season fixture could hurt them in the remainder of the season.
WESTS TIGERS (8TH)
Wests Tigers are another side struggling with consistency. They had a promising start to the season by winning their opening three games, only to lose their next four. They then went on to win another three games in a row by margins of one, four, and two respectively. After these close wins, Wests Tigers relinquished two significant halftime leads in their past two defeats against Wyong and North Sydney. Paul Fletcher’s team obviously have the capability and the talent to be higher up the ladder to reach the Finals but are struggling to put in a consistent week-to-week performance.
Coach Paul Fletcher says: “[Consistency] is a big problem for us at the moment. We’re six (wins) and six (losses) but in those six losses there have been a few that we should have won, the last two for example. It’s not physically; mentally, we’ve just got to be more resilient.”
Standout Players: Brendan Santi and Jack Buchanan have been standouts for Wests Tigers this season. Both of these players received well-deserved NRL call ups this year. They are two of the VB NSW Cup’s best players on a weekly basis. Buchanan ran a remarkable 248 metres in last week’s match against the North Sydney Bears. Josh Drinkwater is also proving to be a key asset for Wests Tigers when he is at his best, leading the competition in try assists with 16, the fifth most linebreak assists with seven, and has kicked 33 goals.
Predicted finish: 7th – definitely have talent across the park but need to achieve weekly consistency.
CANTERBURY-BANKSTOWN BULLDOGS (9th)
The Bulldogs recorded two wins against top-four sides to open their season before slumping with a four-match losing streak that included two losses to the bottom two teams, and a 40-point thumping at the hands of Mounties. There are positive signs in a mixed start to the year including consistent individual performances and a season highlight in knocking Mounties off the top of the table just last week.
Coach Andy Patmore says: “They’re playing some very good football with a couple of unlucky losses. But (we’re) generally pretty happy where we are at the moment. The continuous improvement of our younger players [is an improvement]. We see continual improvement in the boys who are first of second year VB NSW Cup boys, which is excellent.”
Standout players: Lloyd Perrett and Adam Elliott were the two best players according to Patmore. Perrett has deservedly played some first grade NRL this season as reward for outstanding form in the Bulldogs forward pack.
Predicted finish: 10th – will go better if they can keep up recent strong form.
NORTH SYDNEY BEARS (10th)
The Bears struggled to start the season, winning the opening game before losing the next five. In Round Seven, new-coach Ben Gardiner took the reigns and they notably improved. Since Gardiner’s appoitment, the Bears won three from five matches, with two of those victories coming against top-four sides (including the defending premiers). In their other win, they overcame a 22-0 deficit against Wests Tigers to claw back and record a remarkable comeback victory. There is no doubt the Bears have the ability to win more games as the season progresses after proving they can beat anybody on their day.
Coach Ben Gardiner says: “We talk about having what I call a growth mindset, which is a mindset that’s directed as getting better each week. We don’t talk about outcomes often; we just talk about improvement as a group. I think we’ve improved the small areas of our game really well- the effort areas and the energy areas.”
Standout players: Gardiner said that from his point of view, there has been more of a group improvement and team effort in his five weeks at the club rather than a standout player. He says that the key playmakers, whoever are playing in those positions each week, have done a really good job in controlling and leading the team on and off the field.
Predicted finish: 8th – continuously improving, poor for-and-against could hurt them but are definitely still capable of reaching the Finals.
WENTWORTHVILLE MAGPIES (11TH)
The Magpies have also had a very slow start to the season, winning only three games in Rounds Four, Six and a big 42-point win over the Warriors in Round 10. Despite their unfavourable win-loss record, there have been positive signs for Wenty. The Magpies are statistically the worst attacking team in the competition and will need to aim up for a tough schedule in the coming weeks as they are playing the best defensive team in the league next week before facing Mounties in three weeks time.
Coach Brett Cook says: “It’s a bit disappointing so far. There haven’t been many games where we’ve been able to play for 80 minutes. We’ve been in games, about three or four games where we’ve been in front with 10 minutes to go and had a good lead run down. It’s disappointing that we’re not playing for the full 80 minutes.”
Standout Players: Daniel Alvaro has been a workhorse for the Magpies, ranked second in the competition with 114 hit ups, and is one of the leaders of their forward pack. Sam Gorman has excelled, playing various positions while providing his best effort each week.
Predicted finish: 12th – have shown promise but need to score more points.
MANLY SEA EAGLES (12TH)
The Sea Eagles are sitting in last place with the worst defensive record in the competition. Despite running last the Sea Eagles have lost by narrow margins against quality opposition. They’ve been in the game with the defending premiers on two occasions, went down to Mounties by only two points, had tough wins against the Bulldogs and Bears, and beat the Cutters in Round Two despite trailing 16-0 early on.
Coach Luke Williamson says: “There’s certainly some potential. It’s been encouraging but also disappointing. There’s been about three games where we could have won, so our season looks to be failing when in fact it’s looking encouraging. The team itself are performing quite well whoever’s there but for those three to four games we just haven’t got the win.”
Standout Players: Jayden Hodges is one of the leading players in the VB NSW Cup with his creativity out of dummy half. He leads the competition in dummy half runs with 79, is ninth for offloads with 15, has the sixth most tackles with 352 and has also earned severak first grade call-ups this year. Williamson also believes Siosaia Vave has been a great asset to the Sea Eagles in 2015. He has the ninth most running metres in 2015 with 1389, and the fourth most hitups with 113.
Predicted finish: 11th – they have the ability to win games but need to improve defence.