After one of the closest rounds in recent memory last week, round seven featured a cavalcade of blowouts.

The congested ladder was shaken up time and time again, with a new leader, a new lowest and still no real premiership favourite.

Here is our Round-Up.

1. Uncanny X-Man keeps going hard

Xavier Coates looks a different player this year and it’s going well beyond his highlight reel, as impressive as it’s been. 

Coates has three tries this season but every one of them has made a huge impact — the all-time effort against the Warriors in round two lit up the sporting world and his high-flying act against Brisbane a few weeks later earned Mark of the Week honours from the AFL. 

But his latest one, the match-winner against the Roosters, is the true measure of his improvement. 

Loading Twitter content

Coates has always been a player capable of the incredible. He can fly high and perform acrobatic finishes in the corner, and he’s done so for a while now.

But this year Coates is playing tougher. He’s running harder, using every bit of his 194cm, 108kg frame, especially in yardage and in defence, two areas of the game that haven’t always been his strength.

To score the winner on Thursday night he barged through Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Connor Watson and Victor Radley, all tremendous defenders, to score. 

It’s the kind of finish he might not have made last year and that willingness to throw himself around physically has helped Coates become a far more well-rounded player for the Storm. 

ABC Player of the year awards:

3 – Jahrome Hughes (Storm)

2 – Xavier Coates (Storm)

1 – Lindsay Collins (Roosters)

2. Zac Lomax’s Origin case might soon be undeniable

In the space of seven weeks Zac Lomax has played some of the best football of his career in a position he doesn’t want to play, asked for a release from the Dragons, signed with another club and, incredibly, has entered New South Wales Origin calculations. 

Blues coach Michael Maguire has confirmed Lomax on his radar and the Temora product again showed why with a scintillating display against the Warriors.

Lomax scored a try, kicked five goals, booted a two-point field goal and was involved throughout the Dragons brilliant upset win over the Warriors. His four-pointer, a spectacular leaping effort early in the second half, was a mark of his seemingly unlimited talent. 

Loading Twitter content

For a while now it seemed as though that talent might not be fully realised. But if Lomax keeps going like this the stages will only get bigger because he’s playing the kind of football that’s impossible to ignore. 

ABC Player of the year awards:

3 – Zac Lomax (Dragons)

2 – Ben Hunt (Dragons)

1 – Francis Molo (Dragons)

3. Young sensations and late bloomers dazzle for Dolphins

The Dolphins were without four of their best players for their trip to Darwin to play Parramatta and, just to make things a little more difficult, they also didn’t have coach Wayne Bennett after the veteran mentor was struck by illness. 

Any win over Parramatta in those circumstances would have been impressive but running out 44-16 winners made this one of the finest performances in the club’s nascent history and it was two contrasting players who led the way. 

Isaiya Katoa is fast becoming the side’s dominant attacking presence and the young halfback again orchestrated his side’s attack with a veteran’s touch in a superb showing of control and play making skill. At just 20 years old, he’s already going a long way towards justifying the hype which surrounded him in his junior days at the Panthers. 

Trai Fuller has never quite attracted the same attention, although that might change now. The 27-year-old has spent the last six seasons playing with Redcliffe in the Queensland Cup but this was just his second NRL game. You’d never have guessed it from his performance though as Fuller scored a try, set up another and looked sharp with every touch of the ball.

Loading Twitter content

The Dolphins will need to navigate more rough waters as they wait for their stars to return but with Katoa and Fuller leading the way they’ll still be very dangerous for any team who dares to take them lightly. 

ABC Player of the year awards:

3 – Jeremy Marshall-King (Dolphins)

2 – Trai Fuller (Dolphins)

1 – Isaiya Katoa (Dolphins)

4. Panthers remain favourite in a messy comp

There have been those who have been quick to write off the Penrith Panthers as having fallen off, and while they may have lost a step, no-one else has established themselves as the primary challenger.

Cronulla and Melbourne are on top of the table with five wins, but are you really convinced by either of those sides — the scrappy Storm who refuse to win by more than single digits and the Sharks who got pumped 32-6 by the Tigers less than a month ago?

After their season-opening 8-0 loss to Melbourne, the Panthers took care of business in grand final rematches with Parramatta and Brisbane, and after their 22-6 win over Wests Tigers in Bathurst, they are 2-1 without injured superstar halfback Nathan Cleary.

The 32-18 loss to the Sea Eagles in round five was decidedly underwhelming, but the only real aberration in the first two months of their season.

And, perhaps more importantly, they are one of seven teams with four wins from the first seven rounds and basically all of them have lost games in which they were heavy favourites.

Signifying how congested things are to start the season, the Raiders dropped from third to eighth in less than a full round of football, while the Broncos leapt from 11th to sixth after winning their clash.

Until someone truly emerges from the squishy middle of the NRL ladder, the three-time defending champs are the only team you could reliably pick for the premiership.

ABC Player of the year awards:

3 – Isaah Yeo (Panthers)

2 – Dylan Edwards (Panthers)

1 – Aidan Sezer (Tigers)

5. Titans finding new and exciting ways to lose

NRL player David Fifita is about to score, with two oppenents on his back trying to tackle him

David Fifita’s 33rd-minute try was perhaps the softest of the night.(AAP: Jason O’Brien)

With the Rabbitohs cashing in their two points from the bye this weekend, the Titans needed to get their first win of the season to avoid taking their place at the bottom of the ladder.

But, after conceding twice in the opening nine minutes against the Sea Eagles, their chances looked shot.

Then they hit back and even took the lead, with a quarter of the game gone, before Manly hit back and on and on it went all night.

Ultimately, the two teams scored 64 points before 60 minutes had gone off the clock.

The lead changed six times, but the final result was painfully predictable for the Coasters — ending 80 minutes of hard-fought rugby league with no competition points to show for all their graft.

ABC Player of the year awards:

3 – Tom Trbojevic (Sea Eagles)

2 – Jake Trbojevic (Sea Eagles)

1 – AJ Brimson (Titans)

6. Raiders rookie riding the rugby league rollercoaster

Canberra Raiders player Chevy Stewart sits on the ground, looking at a football he just dropped behind him.

Chevy Stewart had his ‘Welcome to the NRL’ moment a week late, but made up for lost time.(AAP: Jono Searle)

Eighteen-year-old Chevy Stewart’s introduction to the NRL was as exciting as it gets, with a dynamite debut at fullback for the Raiders in a thrilling golden-point win over the Titans.

But he was served up a reminder of the brutal nature of the league in game number two, with the Brisbane Broncos targeting him to great effect at Lang Park.

Jock Madden’s spiralling bombs launched into the driving rain made his life miserable.

Loading Twitter content

And the defence made it their mission to make him uncomfortable.

Loading Twitter content

He finished with 12 runs for just 93 metres and four errors. On the other side of the ball Reece ‘Rocks and Diamonds’ Walsh had 16 runs for 199 metres, with two tries and three line breaks, but just as many handling errors as Stewart.

“Tough conditions. He’s a good tough young fullback,” Walsh told Fox Sports of Stewart.

“I just said to him ‘it’s a rollercoaster out there’. He’s got a big heart and it’s good to see a young fella doing well.”

ABC Player of the year awards:

3 – Pat Carrigan (Broncos)

2 – Corey Jensen (Broncos)

1 – Reece Walsh (Broncos)

7. Ponga’s pain ripples through Newcastle

Because getting pumped 36-12 by the Bulldogs wasn’t enough, the footy gods decided to hand Newcastle fans another heaping helping of misery on Sunday afternoon when fullback Kalyn Ponga left the game half an hour early.

He was hobbling badly after half-time and everyone assumed it was his already injured hip, but no, this was a fresh injury.

Knights coach Adam O’Brien described it as a “rare” injury to a ligament in the arch of his foot, but we’ll know more after scans.

It seems Ponga is likely to be out for some time, which doesn’t bode well for a Knights team just barely keeping their head above water even with him in the line-up.

ABC Player of the year awards:

3 – Reed Mahoney (Bulldogs)

2 – Matt Burton (Bulldogs)

1 – Josh Curran (Bulldogs)

8. Local junior rips in for debut in front of 200 mates

It’s always a joyous occasion when a local junior debuts for their home team, and even better when they do it at home.

Getting a try in the corner where his friends and family are sitting, that’s just a dream.

De La Salle Caringbah junior Samuel Stonestreet did just that for his Cronulla Sharks on Sunday afternoon.

Loading Twitter content

The 21-year-old told ABC Sport he “grew up watching the Sharks come last deadset every year” but was overcome with emotion when they won the 2016 grand final.

Somehow, he “was pretty relaxed” and “slept well” ahead of his debut, with his friends and family filling a corner at Shark Park.

“There’s about 200 of ’em and they’re going mad. They’re the best, they’re awesome,” he said.

“That’s just my dream come true.”

ABC Player of the year awards:

3 – Will Kennedy (Sharks)

2 – Nicho Hynes (Sharks)

1 – Kayal Iro (Sharks)

Sports content to make you think… or allow you not to. A newsletter delivered each Saturday.

Posted 4h ago4 hours agoSun 21 Apr 2024 at 7:58pm, updated 2h ago2 hours agoSun 21 Apr 2024 at 9:16pm