Calls grow for State of Origin change, young Tigers finally arrive: Good, bad, ugly of NRL Round 16

The Wests Tigers gave their fans something to cheer about, but things are looking very grim for the Warriors.

😃 The good: Wests Tigers young guns show they belong

😔 The bad: NRL compromised in ugly scenes during State of Origin

😡 The ugly: Warriors facing brutal call on Shaun Johnson

Wests Tigers heavies have been telling us for a while there is a future for the most maligned club in the NRL. At times, it’s been hard to see it. But Sunday's crushing win over Canberra goes some way to explaining the optimism. It was a victory for the true believers.

The young Tigers - average age just 23 - destroyed a Raiders side that failed to show up. The Tigers' dominance was that great the score should have hit 60.

Rookies Lachlan Galvin, Luke Laulilii and Sione Fainu all had days out, backed up by young prop Stefano Utoikamanu along with old heads Api Koroisau and Adam Doueihi - making an emotional return from 18 months out following a third knee reconstruction. Just as pleasing was seeing and hearing a raucous Campbelltown crowd – full of young faces – whipping their team home for the first win at their south-west Sydney base in four years.

Wests Tigers players, pictured here during their NRL win over Canberra.
Wests Tigers players celebrate a try during their NRL win over Canberra. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

After being under the pump during a nine-game losing streak, the Tigers have won two in a row to give hope a third straight wooden spoon will be avoided. Coach Benji Marshall resisted giving critics an "up yours" after the Raiders demolition but his excitement and pride was obvious.

"Kids bring energy and confidence," Marshall said. "We are going places in the future but we still want to win now and we still can win now. We’ve just got to keep backing that up." More of the same, please.

When NRL clubs next meet with Peter V'Landys to discuss match scheduling during the Origin period, they should show Saturday's Souths-Manly game as Exhibit A. With both sides robbed of star power, this match was an absolute stinker.

Manly was without Origin trio Haumole Olakau'atu, Daly Cherry-Evans and Jake Trbojevic. South Sydney gave up Latrell Mitchell and Cameron Murray to the Origin cause and were also missing a few through injury. The Rabbitohs did enough to win 14-0 in a match that was unforgettable for all the wrong reasons. Fans were served up chuck steak instead of sirloin.

South Sydney and Manly Sea Eagles players in action on the field.
The South Sydney and Manly clash was a shocker. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

If the clubs need an Exhibit B to persuade PVL a pause in proceedings during the Origin period is needed, they could simply point to the biggest sporting event on the planet. The 2022 FIFA World Cup was held at the end of the year for the first time to minimise the effects of heat in host country Qatar.

It meant all the major leagues around the world – La Liga, the English Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A et al – were forced to suspend competition as the best players in the world made their way to the Middle East. It created plenty of controversy and discussion at the time but the leagues all resumed after a few weeks and there was no drop in quality or interest.

NRL fans would happily cop a break in hostilities while three consecutive weekends of rep footy was rolled out in its place. If it's good enough for the world's biggest football code, surely rugby league can follow suit.

We've got to be careful here because Shaun Johnson has been written off before and made fools of us. But the heat is well and truly on the veteran Warriors halfback after his side's horror show against the Titans.

Johnson wasn't the only one to hand in a sub-standard performance during the 66-6 flogging, but much of the post-match talk centred on his future in the side. The 33-year-old had a stand-out season in 2023 but hasn't found his groove so far this year.

Shaun Johnson.
Shaun Johnson (L) looks on during the Warriors' huge loss to the Titans. Image: Getty

When he's played, the Warriors have won just three games in 12. When he's been out of the side - and Te Maire Martin replaced him at No.7 - the Warriors won three matches straight.

Some Warriors fans are suggesting things run a lot smoother with Martin calling the shots. They might have the chance to add to their sample base over the next couple of weeks, with Johnson set to be sidelined by a hamstring injury.

Asked about Johnson's performance against the Titans, coach Andrew Webster responded: "I think if we turned up today and were physical and really went after the opposition and we wanted to win that battle, I feel we might have seen the best of Shaun. If our go forward and defence was amazing, we could start talking about halfbacks and fullbacks and hookers and how could you improve and change things.

"To be talking about those this off the back of that, it’s the wrong day for it." But the Warriors coach won’t be able to avoid the issue much longer.

Check back in every Monday throughout the NRL season for Adam Lucius' 'Good, Bad and Ugly' column.

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