ON a warm day and on a fast surface in Adelaide, the dual cellar dwellers of the NRL played out a high-paced and highly entertaining game of rugby league in which both sides threw the ball around and adventure ruled.
Ultimately it was the Cowboys who took their chances best, running in six fine tries.
The Sharks were not disgraced. They had a crack and with a bit more luck would have scored a few more tries and pushed the Cowboys home. But it was not to be, they really missed their captain Paul Gallen, and outside backs Misi Taulapapa and Brett Kearney. Dark days for one of the pre-season favourites.
The Game Swung When… In the 47th minute with his side up 12-4, Johnathan Thurston – enjoying his best game this season – ripped off a fine 40/20. A short minute later Willie Tonga rock-and-rolled his way over for a four-pointer.
When the Sharks were disallowed a try that would have got them within two points – closely followed by a Thurston grubber which ricocheted off Ian Donnelly and straight into Ben Farrar’s arms for a try – Ricky Stuart and the Sharks must have realised Adelaide was not going to be kind.
Who Was Hot… Both teams. This was a fine, open game in which both sides were prepared to throw the ball around, often inside their own half. The game was a good one for it, and a fine advertisement for footy in front of a pretty poor crowd.
Travis Burns had a standout game. Put a great hit on his opposite number Trent Barrett (who was kept quiet) fired some good passes to wide supports, ran with menace up the middle. He later tackled big Blake Ferguson around the bootlaces into touch, one of his 23 tackles for the match with 11 of them one-on-one.
Thurston was also great. He laid on the first try with a fine dummy that sucked in the defence before a perfect grubber rolled in-goal for Shannon Hegarty. Then he nailed a conversion from the sideline which curled more than Shirley Temple. Three try-assists all up, and with runners and options either side of him, he looked much more like the Thurston of Dally M fame. Perhaps he watched Scott Prince’s Man of the Match outing the other night against the Raiders.
Outside him Ben Farrar ran hard and straight, and scored a try.
The Cowboys’ best forwards were try-scorers Luke O’Donnell (19 runs, 132 metres, 3 tackle breaks, 24 tackles) and Shane Tronc (20 runs, 136 metres, 7 tackle breaks, 4 offloads, 29 tackles).
The Sharks’ best was centre Ben Pomeroy who ran with menace down the left, broke eight tackles and set up a fine try with a bullocking run and a flick pass.
Reece Williams made 40 tackles while Anthony Tupou offloaded four times.
Who Was Not… Trent Barrett had a quiet game in which he ran five times and booted one out on the full. He was well shut down by Burns, Thurston and Tonga. The Sharks also didn’t get enough value out of returning half Brett Seymour (2 errors, 2 penalties conceded) while Reni Maitua and Tupou didn’t threaten the line wide of the ruck. Both back-rowers made 30 tackles but need to do more with the ball in two hands.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… From the kick-off to the second-half, with the ball a metre into touch, O’Donnell stretched out his big right mitt and managed to bat the pill back into play. That his foot was on the touch line when doing it escaped the touch judge, who was no doubt admiring some highly skilled play.
O’Donnell later scored a fine try running hard and straight off an inside ball by Thurston, somehow managing to stay on his feet long enough to avoid a double-movement AND juggling the ball as he rolled over the line.
And in the 73rd minute big front-rower Tronc was tackled 10 metres from the Sharks’ line yet somehow managed to keep on pumping his legs before reaching out the Go-Go-Gadget arm for a four-pointer the big fellow will be boring people about all season.
Bad Boys… Couple of high shots but nothing to ruffle too many feathers.
Ref Watch… A busy game for the officials.
For the Sharks’ first attempt at a try, Video Ref Tim Mander ruled the ball had gone forward off Williams’ hands before it ended with Matthew Wright who ran over the line. It was a 50/50 one and not for the first time the call went against the Sharks.
Wright was soon at it again, this time Mander ruling ‘Try’. Correct: Thurston tackled the decoy, which was Thurston’s lookout. That’s why they’re called decoys, so they fool the opposition. Thurston was fooled. Tough cheddar.
Rookie ref Chris James ruled a Burns pass forward that looked flat across the ground. Like the drop ball/knock-on rule, why does benefit of the doubt of flat passes go to the defenders?
No arguments with the touch judge’s call on a forward pass to Luke Covell.
The Cowboys tended to yell at junior ref Chris James quite a bit but then his decisions were subjective, and only causing angst because they were going against the Cowboys. It was a tactic to pressure the new ref.
Mander was called upon to adjudicate again when Luke Covell went over, ruling ‘No Try’, obstruction. It was not the Sharks’ afternoon.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Travis Burns (Cowboys): Shut down T Barrett and provided plenty of attacking menace in a highly competitive outing; 2 points – J Thurston (Cowboys): Three try-assists and a crucial 40/20. The Thurston of old; 1 point – Luke O’Donnell (Cowboys): Powerful in defence, strong in attack, scored a try. Just tips out S Tronc.
Cowboys 34 (S Hegarty, L O’Donnell, W Tonga, B Farrar, M Bowen, S Tronc tries; J Thurston 5 goals) def Sharks 10 (M Wright, A Tupou tries; L Covell goal) at Hindmarsh Stadium. Crowd: 8,547.