AROUND THE GROUNDS | ISP Rd 11

Magic Weekend a Success

The concept of a Magic Weekend - adopted from the English Super League's event of the same name, also held this week - is not entirely new in Rugby League, but its debut in NSW has been deemed a success.

Two high-value days were on offer for Sydney Rugby League fans, with just $10 gaining entry to an Intrust Super Premiership triple-header at either Henson Park (Saturday) or North Sydney Oval (Sunday). Solid crowds at both venues embraced the event, which was also covered in detail on NSWRL.com.au - and it is likely to continue next season.

Mounties Regain Outright Lead

There was a definite sense of disappointment in the Mounties camp immediately following their scrappy 34-24 win over Wentworthville, but the fact remains that they are the benchmark of the competition.

Already in outright first position before Round 10, the Ryan Carr-coached side had come back to the field with a shock defeat to Newtown, but this week did enough to go regain a buffer on the rest of the competition. A big first half set up Mounties' victory at Henson Park - a venue at which they are undefeated - and with Penrith's loss to Western Suburbs on Sunday, they are once again outright ladder leaders.

Roos Rare win Silences Henson

Wins have been hard to come by for the Wyong Roos in 2018 - and on the two occasions that they had in the opening 10 rounds, the margin had been just one point. In a remarkable comeback, last year's runners-up showed impressive fight to come away with another tight one.

Trailing 24-10 in the final quarter of the game, Wyong swung the momentum their way to give Poasa Faamausili and Paul Momirovski tries. Billy Smith then capped off the comeback, scoring out wide to deliver the Roos the 26-24 victory - and bring a sudden hush over a packed Henson Park.

It was the second time this season that the Roos had given heartbreak to Jets fans, having won 25-24 in Round 1, and the total margin from the side's three wins is now just four points. It lifts Rip Taylor's side off the bottom of the table and within three points of the top eight.

Wests Turn to Defence

The departure of Josh Drinkwater from the Western Suburbs Magpies was well documented, with the halfback's absence always likely to have a major impact on the side's attacking ability. When the Magpies lost their first two matches without their former No.7, the consequences were clear to see - but coach Brett Hodgson has found a renewed focus on defence to be the answer.

In consecutive weeks, the Magpies have now demonstrated a solid defence, keeping the Warriors scoreless in Round 10 before restricting the in-form Panthers to 10 points on Sunday afternoon. The most recent outing, which included the first scoreless second half of the 2018 season, was further evidence that the Magpies have what it takes to be premiership contenders.

Overall, Drinkwater's move has still been felt; the Wests Tigers feeder had averaged 30 points scored when their former captain was playing, and has averaged less than 12 scored in the four games since. They remain the competition's best defensive outfit, however, which has helped them back to second place on the ladder.

Bulldogs Make do with Four Hookers

When the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs defeated the Newcastle Knights 22-12  on Sunday, they did so with an unusual make-up of their side: it includes four players usually considered hookers.

While Michael Lichaa, relegated from the NRL three weeks ago, remains in the No.9 jersey, he is joined by three other rakes: Fa'amanu Brown, who has earned the starting halfback role with some fine form this season, Zac Woolford, who returned from injury last week and plays the bench hooker role, and Bronson Garlick, who is also on the interchange, but has been asked to play in the second row when he takes the field.

All except Garlick are NRL-contracted, with a requirement to maintain match fitness in the Intrust Super Premiership, but the circumstances helped the side come away with their Round 11 win. Woolford's injection into the attack was particularly successful, with the 21-year-old crossing for his first try since making his return.

Local Hero Tons Up

Last week in Around the Grounds, we told you about the long-awaited return of Curtis Johnston, a North Sydney veteran who came back to the Bears after four years playing for the Redcliffe Dolphins. The story began another chapter on Sunday afternoon, when Johnston brought up a special personal milestone.

The prolific try-scorer, who crossed 28 times back in the 2011 season, managed a hat-trick for his beloved Bears in Round 11, which also brought him to 100 tries for the North Sydney club. The effort included a remarkable take from a Connor Tracey bomb in the first half, with the 28-year-old winger proving he's not lacking his athletic abilities.

A century of tries throughout the course of a career is a fine effort, and to notch up such a tally at a single Intrust Super Premiership club is remarkable. In Round 12, however, Johnston will continue to chase another result: his first victory for the Bears since 2014.

New Blood Reaches Intrust Super Premiership

With the representative period set to open up vacancies for Intrust Super Premiership stars at NRL level, players will similarly be introduced to the lower grade - a process which took place with four new faces on the weekend.

Morgan Harper (centre, Canterbury-Bankstown), Josh Curran (lock, Roos), Billy Smith (centre, Roos) and Steven Marsters (fullback, Dragons) all made the step up to the Intrust Super Premiership, with the aim of securing regular positions in coming weeks.