NRL Round 2: What we liked and disliked from every game

The NRL’s second round of the 2023 season provided plenty of highlights, with reigning champions responding from their opening loss.

Brisbane Broncos and the Dolphins continue their early form and remain the only teams undefeated along with the Dragons and Sea Eagles while the Raiders, Eels and West Tigers struggle.

However, the weekend of NRL was dampened by racial abuse to one of the game’s greats.

Here’s what we liked and disliked from every game of the second round.  

MORE: NRL Round 1 – What we liked and disliked from every game

Penrith Panthers 16 – 10 South Sydney Rabbitohs 

What we liked: Penrith respond in style

Heading into the game, Penrith were staring down the barrel of a third successive defeat and potentially making the worst start to a season since 2016.

Speaking pre-match, coach Ivan Cleary had a glint in his eye when he called for his side to play with more freedom as they entered into the next phase of their evolution.

From the very first minute, it was clear his troops had bought into his messaging throughout the week with their energy helping them to rip holes in the Bunnies defence through the middle.  

Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo sat out the back and orchestrated proceedings perfectly as towering bombs, neat link play and switches out wide rendered Souths obsolete.

The back-to-back premiers have undoubtedly been picked apart by the rivals due to their success but on this showing against a fellow premiership heavyweight, they proved they will still be there or thereabouts come September.

What we disliked: The racial abuse aimed at Latrell Mitchell

Jason Demetriou said it best when addressing the ugly incident post-match.

He said he wanted anyone who was found guilty of racial abuse to be given life bans from the game.

“It’s not what our game is about, and we have to stamp it out completely,” he said.

MORE: Jason Demetriou calls for life bans after Latrell Mitchell is the victim of alleged racial abuse

“The NRL and clubs- they have to get rid of it. Life bans. If anyone wants to make racist remarks get them out of the game. We don’t want their support. It’s got to end.

“He should be able to come here as a star of our game and not be racially abused. Who cares what colour he is?

“I don’t understand how it happens in our day and age.

“I can’t get my head around how a young kid thinks that that is the language to be using. I don’t care what jersey he’s wearing. Get them out of our game.”

Cronulla Sharks 30 – 26 Parramatta Eels

What we liked: Matt Moylan masterclass

After a poor start to his season, Sharks five-eighth Matt Moylan bounced back on Friday night in a high-scoring thriller against Parramatta.

The 31-year-old was in everything for Cronulla, setting up two tries and making a classy linebreak as he wound back the clock with a classy performance.

Moylan also finished with 89 run metres and his kicking game was on point, laying a cross-field bomb on a dime for Ronaldo Mulitalo in what proved to be the match-winning try. 

Will Kennedy was also brilliant for the visitors at CommBank Stadium, scoring his first career hat-trick. 

There was a hell of a lot to like from this game for both sides, but it was Moylan who was the standout performer. 

What we disliked: Waqa Blake bombs a golden opportunity

Parramatta had a late chance to level the scores and either send it into extra time or seal the win with a sideline conversion – but centre Waqa Blake had other plans.

With the clock ticking and less than a minute remaining, Blake got the ball close to the line and had Maika Sivo unmarked outside him but opted to dummy and go himself.

Unfortunately for the Fijian international, he came up with an error in his attempt to score and the Sharks scraped it up and went up the field and hold on for a narrow four-point win. 

In a game the Eels needed to win, crucial errors at both ends of the field came back to haunt them.

Brisbane Broncos 28 – 16 North Queensland Cowboys 

What we liked: Reece Walsh’s dazzling debut

As far as first impressions go, Broncos recruit Reece Walsh made sure his will be unforgettable.

In his first official start for Brisbane, the exciting 20-year-old produced one of the best club debuts in NRL history, setting Suncorp Stadium alight during the 28-16 victory over the Cowboys.

Walsh was in absolutely everything for his side on Friday night, running for over 180 metres, producing two try assists and capping the night off with a four-pointer of his own to seal the result for the Broncos. 

It was a statement win for Brisbane and while Walsh will receive all the plaudits, the likes of Herbie Farnworth and Ezra Mam were brilliant as well and there is plenty of room for optimism in 2023. 

What we disliked: Scott Drinkwater’s moment of madness

Cowboys fullback Scott Drinkwater would like to have his time over following a costly shoulder charge on Friday night.

The star fullback was sin-binned at a crucial period after half-time and is now facing three weeks on the sidelines.

The high shot on Corey Oates left the Broncos winger with a broken jaw and facing two months on the sidelines, while Drinkwater’s time in the bin allowed the hosts to gain the momentum.

Drinkwater is by no means a dirty player and it was clear he was partially bracing for contact, but the shoulder charge was banned a long time ago and now his side will pay a heavy price. 

Sydney Roosters 20 – 12 New Zealand Warriors 

What we liked: Joseph Suaalii the human highlight reel

Suaalii’s strong carries constantly got his side on the front foot out of yardage, while he also showed signs of improvement in defence. 

He finished with close to 200 metres, six tackle busts, two linebreaks and a try assist that was almost botched when he elected not to pass to James Tedesco and instead go himself.

He was tackled but managed to spare his own blushes with an offload for Sam Walker to eventually cross for what turned out to be the match-winner.

However, the young gun was also put on report for a late tackle that will be sure to come under scrutiny from the match review committee.

Regardless of what he does out on the field – be it good or bad – Suaalii ensures that all eyes are on him as he is becoming one of the most entertaining players to watch in the league. 

What we disliked: Warriors come up short as key injuries pile up and cause havoc

The Warriors put in a valiant display and repelled the Roosters against the odds while showing a sense of commitment in defence which has been sorely lacking for some time.

But in the end, their injury issues piled up and made it difficult to stay with their opponents as blown opportunities late on saw their toil go unrewarded. 

Jackson Ford went off inside the first few minutes and didn’t return. His replacement on the left edge, Josh Curran, also succumbed to a hip injury in the second half. 

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad left the game prematurely after suffering a concussion, but to New Zealand’s credit they remained in the game and even had a chance to snatch it late before two key errors whilst on the attack brought their chances to an end.

Dolphins 20 – 14 Canberra Raiders

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What we liked: Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow keeps the Dolphins’ dream run going

The feel-good story around the Dolphins continues to roll on. 

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow’s move there was seen as a good move by many, but no one could have predicted just how good he was going to be at fullback for the new franchise in the first rounds.

He got his side back into the contest when he scored on the stroke of half time after Canberra had controlled most of the proceedings up until that point. 

But he saved his biggest play for the final minute of an absorbing match when, with scores tied, he sliced through a gap to touch down and send the jubilant home crowd into raptures. 

He finished with a double, 141 metres and three tackle busts as the Hammer is quickly becoming a favourite in the red jersey. 

What we disliked: Tough sin bin calls mar final minutes

Hudson Young found an unlikely ally in Wayne Bennett when he claimed that the backrower was unlucky to be sent to the sin bin. 

Young was pinned for not being square at marker when he tackled Tubai-Fidow and held him up over the line.

“I thought the sin bin on them was pretty tough,” Bennett said.

“The ref didn’t have a lot of problems with the game, the players were playing within the rules pretty well, trying their hearts out and I just thought that was a pretty tough sin-binning.

“It’s a huge price to pay, 10 minutes in the bin. If they’d done two or three in row, well I understand that, but that was just a one-off marker.”

The coach was also unimpressed with the decision to sin bin Sean O’Sullivan after the halfback collided with Corey Harawira-Naera in defence. 

The penalty resulted in the Raiders drawing level with five minutes remaining on the clock.

“He kicked the ball in a bad position and was running flat out at Sean,” Bennett said.

“I don’t know whether the fact there was head contact, but if there was it was an absolute accident.

“At no stage did Sean try to tackle him, it was just two players making a collision and at the end of the day our game is a collision game and they’ve got to recognise that.”

Melbourne Storm 12 – 26 Canterbury Bulldogs 

What we liked: The Dogs turn on the style in Melbourne 

A first win in Melbourne in seven years was achieved thanks to an eye-catching display of attacking footy that simply left the Storm reeling.

Cameron Ciraldo promised to take the game to Melbourne and that’s exactly what they did as they tore through their opponents in the first half to record seven linebreaks to zero on their way to a 16-0 lead at the break. 

Jacob Kiraz proved to be particularly difficult to contain with the Lebanese international busting through nine tackles, making over 200 metres and notching a double.

In two 10-minute spells either side of half time, the Dogs ran riot with Josh Addo-Carr and Jake Averillo also getting in on the act.

The performance was a complete contrast to what they dished up against Manly a week prior and now sets a new standard which they must reach each week. 

What we disliked: The Storm turn in a woeful defensive display

Craig Bellamy didn’t mince his words post-match when he said his side got what they deserved with the loss.

He questioned his player’s attitude and effort in key areas of the game as they constantly slipped off tackles and were blown apart through the middle of the pitch.

At times it appeared all too easy for Canterbury as they almost cut through Melbourne’s defence at will. 

The home side finished with 49 missed tackles and if Bellamy’s half time address is anything to go by, the players could be in for a miserable week at training that will consist of plenty of tackling practice. 

Wests Tigers 12 – 14 Newcastle Knights

What we liked: Knights’ endeavour secures win

Newcastle overcame the loss of four stars throughout the afternoon to defeat the West Tigers on their home turf and secure their first win of the year.

Kalyn Ponga and hooker Jayden Brailey were off in the first 15 minutes of the match suffering head knocks.

Ponga’s injury came within the two minutes of the opening kick after colliding with Tigers’ Asu Kepoa and was unable to return to the field.

The Knights were forced to then activate 18th man Brodie Jones after Brailey was also ruled out with concussion.

Despite being on top of the Tigers, Newcastle would also lose winger Dom Young to the sin-bin for an early tackle in the first half.

And to make matters worse, Jacob Saifiti was also sent to the sidelines after his high tackle on Jake Simpkin with only 15 minutes to go.

At this time, the Tigers were coming but the Knights were able to prevail in a gutsy win that can set up the season.

What we disliked: Tigers attack ‘disappointing’ and ‘diabolical’

The West Tigers’ attacking performance was labelled “disappointing” and “diabolical” by former rugby league player and commentator Michael Ennis, as the club fell to Newcastle by two points.

Throughout the night, the Knights were undermanned, losing four of the key players to injury and the sin-bin, providing an opening for the Tigers to secure their opening victory of the season.

However, the home side underperformed and were unable to capitalise on Newcastle’s woes, losing the contest 12-14.

Ennis was quick to pass judgement on the Tigers, describing the evening as arguably the worst performance in “recent history”.

“One of the most disappointing performances from the Tigers in recent history,” Ennis said.

“Their attack was absolutely diabolical.”

Fellow commentator Greg Alexander shared the same opinion as Ennis, suggesting their “execution was poor”.

“You can’t help but be critical of the Tigers,” Alexander said during the coverage.

“The Tigers were very similar to last week against the Titans.

“They had all that ball early and every time they got down there they either kicked dead, their passing was poor. Their execution was poor.

“Their six or seven errors have all been on the attack. That denied them any chance to score more than one try in the first half.”

The consistent mistakes and lack of scoring built up plenty of frustration for the Tigers and was seen visible throughout the afternoon.

St George Illawarra Dragons 32 – 18 Gold Coast Titans 

What we liked: Dragons pile on 30 unanswered points 

St George Illawarra didn’t start the evening too hot, as the Gold Coast Titans jumped out of the gates to put a quick 10-point lead and trailing 2-12 within the first 20 minutes.

However, a season-opening try from Jacob Liddle got the ball rolling as the Dragons scored three tries in quick succession to complete the half in front.

To the delight of St George fans, the momentum didn’t stop there as the home side was able to quell the Titans attacking advances while also putting more scores on themselves.

At the 67-minute mark, the Dragons held a commanding lead of 20 points before running out eventual winner 32-18.

Zac Lomax rarely missed an opportunity, hitting 3/3 from penalties and another 3/5 from conversion, rounding out an impressive night in front of the sticks.

What we disliked: Titans doomed from beginning as trend continues

The Gold Coast Titans are yet to register consecutive wins to begin the NRL season since 2010.

A record which is now 13 years strong, the Titans have failed to get their campaigns going on a positive note which is reflected by how the club has gone over the past decade.

Unfortunately for the Titans, they’ve made the finals four teams in their existence but only twice since 2010 (2016, 2021) and have unable to make a charge towards the premiership.

After a strong, victorious performance against West Tigers last week, it looked like Gold Coast was going to break the ill-fated record after leading 2-12 in the opening 20 minutes against the Dragons.

However, as it has over the years, St George took charge of the contest and put on 30-consecutive points to generate a game-winning margin.

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