NICK TEDESCHI wraps up the penultimate week of finals in the latest instalment of From the Couch.

Dally M Debacle

Whatever geniuses decided to take a bad award ceremony in the Dally M Medal and make it infinitely worse should be named, shamed and excommunicated. It has been a terrible look for the Dally M Medal to be such an amateur affair, particularly when compared with the Brownlow, a classy evening that actually has surprises and the reading of every vote. To split the event over two nights and then name the five people who can win the award is a complete and utter joke, seen by the ratings last Monday, when 48,000 people tuned in. The NRL is missing a wonderful opportunity with the Dally M Medal but nobody at HQ seems to have the ability to make it work.

Reece Stands Up

It was pleasing to see a refreshing bit of honesty from an NRL player caught doing the wrong thing. Young star Reece Walsh was nabbed in possession of drugs on the Gold Coast. He seemed genuinely honest and contrite. There is no question that the NRL punishment will be heavy considering the involvement of drugs but he deserves some credit for actually taking responsibility for his actions.

Head High Shots Now Ok

The NRL has seemingly given the all clear for head high tackles based on how both Gerard Sutton and The Bunker officiated Saturday’s final. There were some clear high shots that not only were ignored on the field but ignored by The Bunker. The entire exercise in the middle of the year has seemingly been for naught. Once a big finals game is here, the referees want no part of blowing the whistle. If Gerard Sutton gets the Grand Final – and he will – it only confirms that the NRL’s pursuit of player protection was just too hard.

Conversion Calamity

It is laughable how many times the NRL officials shoot themselves in the foot but they managed to do it in the dumbest way possible when allowing Nathan Cleary to take a conversion about 12 metres in despite Brian To’o scoring hard up against the sideline. The rub of the green has certainly gone Penrith’s way at nearly every turn this finals series.

End of Season Report Cards

Melbourne Storm – B+

No matter what way you chop it up, the end means more than the beginning and for all the Storm achieved this year and the unprecedented heights they reached, the terribly disappointing exit in their preliminary final will be what is remembered most and will cast a long pall over what should be remembered as a remarkable season. Expectations for Melbourne were premiership or bust and this year is a bust despite a remarkable first year post-Cameron Smith that saw them tie the record for most consecutive wins at 19 and break scoring records that have been long-standing. Things started to go a little off the rails at the backend of the regular season with the Storm almost overcome by a wealth of riches, notably how to fit both Ryan Papenhuyzen and Nicho Hynes in the team. They seemingly overcame that with a blistering opening week of the finals before an uncharacteristic effort in the preliminary final when they dropped more ball than they ever have under Bellamy. The side was also beset by panic, clearly missing Cameron Smith. Going forward, the Storm will have some rebuilding to do with the exit of three very good players. One area the Storm are going to need to invest in more is at outside back. They were chronically let down throughout the year. You cannot have stars at every position but when a team is as reliably good as Melbourne, they need outside backs who can do a job. They were let down so much this year by the position with George Jennings and Justin Olam both horrific in the preliminary final. The Storm should be proud of a big year but with the standards they hold and the expectations they had, they won’t be.

Manly Sea Eagles – A+

Expectations are a funny thing. They really dictate how you leave a season feeling. If the Panthers lose the Grand Final, they will be devastated. Manly left a week early and will be chuffed at what was an incredible season. After being widely hammered in the opening four games, the Sea Eagles went on a remarkable ride on the back of Tom Trbojevic to reach the Top 4 and a preliminary final. It was a throwback to some old Storm teams with how the Sea Eagles were built. It is also worth noting that in Trent Barrett’s last year at Manly he had not only the Trbojevic brothers, Daly Cherry-Evans and Martin Taupau but Api Koroisau and Addin Fonue-Blake with perhaps not bigger indictment of his abilities as a coach than that fact and the fact he led that team to 15th on the ladder. Des Hasler has been underrated in what he has done for Manly, turning them back into winners by giving his stars freedom. It is a sound base to attack next year from.

2021 Field Goal Update – 28

There have been five Grand Final field goals kicked in the NRL era. They have been kicked by Brett Finch, Darren Lockyer, Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston and Luke Keary.

Fun Fact #1

Wayne Bennett is the first coach to lead four separate teams to a Grand Final and would become the first coach to coach three teams to a premiership if Souths win next weekend.

Fun Fact #2

Wayne Bennett has coached teams to Grand Finals in five different decades.

Fun Fact #3

The coach Wayne Bennett defeated to reach this Grand Final was the opposition’s halfback in his first Grand Final – Des Hasler.

Betting Market of the Week:

Wayne Bennett’s feud with Ivan Cleary will:

$1001: Naturally peter out because Wayne does not like to hold grudges
$1001: See Wayne approach Ivan in the leadup to the Grand Final to apologise for overreacting
$1001: Wayne publicly concede he may have overreacted
$1.00: Continue until Wayne dies, Ivan is killed by him or a meteor destroys the earth

Rumour Mill

Payne Haas is reportedly unhappy at Brisbane and his looking to exit his lengthy deal though the Broncos have no intention of letting him go. It is expected the NRL will announce that a 17th franchise will join the NRL in 2023 the week following the Grand Final. Kane Evans is unsurprisingly being shopped to other clubs with Super League his most likely destination. Parramatta have made an approach for Canterbury outside back Nick Cotric.

Moronic Coaching Decision of the Week

Ricky Stuart has lost his mind if he thinks swapping decorated international hooker Josh Hodgson to get middling half Jamal Fogarty is a fair deal. That is like saying a swap between a nice refreshing tap beer and an apple juice from Todd Carney’s house is a fair swap. Hodgson is a class player who is being misused and poorly coached. Fogarty has got the most out of his limited abilities and is not getting any better. This swap has nothing to do with football and all to do with Stuart’s poor handling of Hodgson.

The Coaching Crosshairs

The Wests Tigers decision to reverse course and stick with Michael Maguire as their head coach says everything that needs to be said about the club. It is little wonder the Tigers are the least desirable destination in the NRL. The Tigers made plenty of noise that Magiure was gone with well-placed leaks suggesting he was done and that Cameron Ciraldo would take over. The Panthers assistant smartly though knocked back the Tigers, despite their protestations that he was never approached and never in the mix. Seemingly Maguire’s last words saved him. To call the Tigers a basketcase would be an insult to basketcases across the globe. It is little wonder the likes of Josh Addo-Carr, Latrell Mitchell and others have knocked back big-money offers to play at a proper football club.

Watch It

This season marks 30 years since Penrith won their first ever premiership, a memorable day when the Panthers upset the heavily-fancied two-time defending champions Raiders. The match was Penrith legend Royce Simmons’ final game and he had a game for the ages scoring two tries. Watch the highlights via the Canberra Ten News affiliate, highlighted by the parachutist landing on the roof of the old Sydney Football Stadium.