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High shots need a new penalty

Raiders back-rower Elliott Whitehead is free to play in the NRL preliminary final
Elliott Whitehead should have spent as much time off the field on Saturday night as Isaah Yeo
Photo Source: Getty Images

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Penalise both teams equally after high hits
On Saturday night Penrith forward Isaah Yeo carried the ball forward with typical determination and was met by two Canberra defenders, with Elliott Whitehead completing the tackle over the top. Yeo hit the ground and had the outstretched arm and rolling eyes of a player clearly knocked out. Replays showed Whitehead collecting Yeo’s jaw with his forearm, and he was penalised and placed on report. Yeo was taken from the field for the compulsory concussion test.

We are left to believe that a player can clock an opponent with a forearm to the jaw and send him to Disneyland where he can fail a concussion test and miss the rest of a sudden-death final. The referee obviously saw this; he penalised the offender and put him on report. So which team came out of that exchange in front? What if a Sharks player does the same thing to Johnathan Thurston early next week?

If the referees are too worried about sending a player off because they’re not sure of the severity of the offence, then maybe the concussion test can be used to answer that one for them. Why not link the offender's fate to that of the victim? If you knock a player out with a reportable act, you should be made to leave the field with the victim and only return if and when he does. On Saturday night Yeo made a miraculous recovery and somehow returned to the field later in the match, but Canberra should have been without Whitehead for the same period.

Coote won’t play that badly again
Cowboys star Lachlan Coote had one of those horrible games we have seen from him before, but only on very rare occasions. The Cowboys’ players spent a fair chunk of the first half consoling their fullback, as player do these days, patting him on the back, rubbing his head, telling him everything would be alright. 

In the first 40 minutes he was lucky to get away with a horrible pass on his own try line; it was ruled forward, but it could have been much worse. He was bulldozed out of the way by Andrew McCullough for Brisbane's first try. He was also trampled by young Broncos centre Tom Opacic but was rescued by the cover defence of Johnathan Thurston. Then just before the break he slipped over and spilled a Broncos grubber kick, resulting in the visitors' second try.

We’re not sure what Paul Green had to say to him in the sheds, but he started the second half more positively, until he dropped another Broncos kick, this time under little pressure. Then with 10 minutes remaining in the thriller and the Cowboys leading 18-14, Corey Oates made a break out of the Broncos' 20-metre zone. Coote came across in cover, only to be left grasping by an Oates’ swerve. The Cowboys went on to win despite the horror display from Coote, and the Sharks should be prepared for a star performance from the diminutive champion this week.

Tripping raises its ugly leg again
The year of the trip continued, with Matt Gillett sticking his leg out after being wrong-footed by Johnathan Thurston in the final minutes of Friday night’s extra-time thriller. Gillett was placed on report but won’t serve any time on the sideline, with the offence earning him a paltry 56 points after he takes the guilty plea.

It was another example of this once-reviled act being treating as a minor offence. There have been plenty of opportunities this year to make a statement on tripping, but it appears that the NRL doesn’t see it as being anything too concerning.

JT unbelievable
The Cowboys’ match-winning try in extra-time was another piece of Johnathan Thurston mastery. He did it a couple of weeks ago against the Bulldogs – summed up the defensive line perfectly on approach, spotted a sluggish forward and began to plant the seeds of doubt. On Friday night it was international second row-forward and good mate Sam Thaiday who became the victim.

Thurston ran towards Thaiday, angled towards his outside shoulder, he pumped a couple of dummies and as soon as he saw the outside defender’s head turn, he knew it was on. He straightened off his right foot, accelerated and planted a left-hand fend on Thaiday’s head. He was through and only had fullback Darius Boyd to beat. As he headed towards the line on an angle he sensed Michael Morgan cross behind him in support and hit him on the chest with a perfect flick pass. It was a piece of brilliance coaches should be replaying for their junior teams. It might not be possible to teach their kids how to do what Thurston did, but they’ll be able to use it as an example of what can be achieved if you spend a lifetime working on being the best.

Battle of the best hookers
Storm captain Cameron Smith has long held the title of the world’s best hooker, but we think Raiders No. 9 Josh Hodgson has his measure. Hodgson showed once again against the Panthers that he can do everything Smith does, just with the added sharpness of youth. 

Hodgson’s long bullet-like passes from dummy-half release the lethal Raiders outside backs. His pinpoint kicking game from around the ruck allows all the chasers to be onside. He knows when to dart and when to pass, and his defence can't be faulted. Coming back from having his ankle folded over last week shows just how tough he is. 

Many experts expect Hodgson to go close to winning the Dally M award on the Wednesday before the grand final, but he'll be more focussed on collecting the ultimate prize. His next hurdle will be the Storm and their second-best hooker in the world.

What did you make of week two of the finals? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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