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Monday Smelling Salts Round 23

Monday Smelling Salts Round 23
Seriously, how good are wingers?

Let's start by paying tribute to one of the best rule changes in recent times – the decision to take the corner post out of the equation when wingers are diving for the corner. The result has been some of the most amazingly acrobatic tries you'll ever hope to see.

Cowboys youngster Kyle Feldt got the season underway in fine form with his parallel-to-the-ground, entire-body-outside-the-field-of-play effort in the pre-season Auckland Nines.

Brett Morris's stunning upside-down grounding at Remondis Stadium back in Round 3 will live long in the memory, and the Test winger went on to produce one of what was a swagful of stunning groundings from wingers in Round 23.

His spectacular 74th-minute effort was followed by a similarly impressive effort by fellow Red V winger Jason Nightingale in the 79th. If you missed them catch both of them in the highlights here.

Those groundings proved merely to be the hors d'oeuvre ahead of Sunday's main course however, with the Warriors and Knights trading increasingly more remarkable four-pointers on an exciting afternoon in Newcastle.

Knights youngster Sione Mata'utia opened the afternoon's scoring in just the fourth minute in relatively unspectacular style, and he added his second career try 20 minutes later with a runaway effort. 

But the pyrotechnics truly began in the 34th minute when his opposite winger, young Warriors flyer David Fusitu'a, leapt out to escape Mata'utia's push and acrobatically swivelled to somehow ground the ball inside the touchline.

Sione, not to be outdone, earned himself a hat-trick in the 53rd under immense pressure. With plenty of attention from Fusitu'a and Sam Tomkins Mata'utia somehow reached out and with fingertips on the ball managed to get it down with a scrape of the chalk just inside the touchline. It was too good for the on-field ref, who sent the unlikely effort upstairs as a no-try, but replays confirmed the impressive grounding.

Proving the senior men haven't been left behind in all this, Kiwi Test winger Manu Vatuvei got in on the act five minutes from time to round out an afternoon of stunning put-downs. Catch all the highlights from that one here.

The athleticism of modern wingers truly is remarkable – David Nofoaluma's stunner from last season and a handful of Peta Hiku's efforts this year remain burned into the retinas – and that's all without efforts like this try of the season candidate from South Sydney on Thursday night. 
No matter how many controversies or criticisms rugby league has to endure, with a product of this quality it's easy to see why it continues to be so resilient.

Chris Kennedy

Winds of change blow through Titans?

Where Greg Bird is invariably good for a media grab or two, fellow Titans co-captain Nate Myles often plays the role of the strong, silent type but to be even taking the field with his side out of finals contention with his left hand in the state it is in is the epitome of leadership. 

Throughout the Origin Series Myles could barely shake your hand and watching him slug through 74 metres and make 23 tackles basically without the use of his left hand against Manly on Sunday made it abundantly clear that this man cares deeply for his club. A dead fish tied to the end of his left arm would have done the same job as his left hand against the Sea Eagles but ask him about it and he'll tell you it's just a bit sore. 

The winds of change have swept through the Titans in recent weeks and judging by his demeanour in the post-match presser you get the impression that it is a fresh start that Myles will welcome. He spoke openly about having players pushing hard for selection each and every week, a characteristic perhaps lost in the laid-back lifestyle of Gold Coast living. The enigmatic Kevin Gordon was overlooked in favour of Kalifa Faifai Loa in Neil Henry's first game in charge – somewhat ironic given the pair's tumultuous relationship at the Cowboys – while Henry made it clear that Dave Taylor needs to be more consistent than brilliant to earn a starting spot in his team. 

Although he blooded Jason Taumalolo at North Queensland at just 17 years of age, Henry repeatedly sent the talented youngster back to reserve grade when he sensed his attitude wasn't quite right and the same may be in store for Taylor.
John Cartwright was fiercely loyal to his players throughout his eight-year tenure and perhaps in the end that is what had been holding them back.

Tony Webeck

Dally M Watch

Of the four players generally considered to be in the running for the 2014 Dally M Medal – Jarryd Hayne, Sam Burgess, Ben Hunt and Johnathan Thurston – only three have played so far this round, with Thurston's Cowboys to meet the Panthers at Sportingbet Stadium on Monday night.

Of those three, it seems likely two polled minor points in Round 23 to keep the race irresistibly close heading into the final three rounds.

Burgess may have polled as many as two points with a very strong all-round game against Ben Hunt's Broncos, including 149 metres, four tackle breaks, two offloads, a try assist and 32 tackles.

But there's no way he got the maximum after a stunning hat-trick game from fullback Greg Inglis, who added 156 metres and six tackle breaks to his 12-point haul.

Likewise Jarryd Hayne, whose freakish run of form saw him add a seventh try in his past four games, as well as a breathtaking try assist, and in the 'it's getting silly now' bracket – another 229 metres and nine tackle breaks. That means in his past month of footy, Hayne has racked up 1,040 metres at 260 per game, and 40 tackle busts at 10 per game.
But after finishing on the losing side and Bulldogs workhorse Aiden Tolman getting man-of-the-match, Hayne may have had to settle for two points as well.

Hunt is unlikely to have scored in his side's big loss to the Rabbitohs but you wouldn't count Thurston out of adding to his tally against Penrith. It means the top three almost remain too tough to separate, while Hunt may just be edging too far behind to make a charge for the main gong in what has nevertheless been an outstanding season for the much-improved playmaker.

Chris Kennedy

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