Peter Sterling: Those critical moments

A game of rugby league is made up of a multitude of mini competitions.<br><br>Each play is an arm wrestle between two sides looking to gain the ascendancy in every component that takes one play-the-ball to the next. &nbsp;<br><br>These battles form the tapestry of the match and invariably the team that competes best and more often will emerge as the winners.<br><br>However, amongst the host of contests within the 80 minutes, there will always be a critical point which in retrospect proved to be the significant moment.<br><br>The beauty of our game is that it can be absolutely anything.<br><br>On Friday night at Skilled Park it was the diving on of a loose ball.<br><br>After trailing 22-6 at half-time, the Warriors stormed back into contention against the Gold Coast with tries to Joel Moon and Manu Vatuvei. The blockbusting effort of the huge Kiwi winger to crash over in the corner lifted his side’s confidence enormously with the deficit cut to just eight points.<br><br>It was no surprise then to see the visitors again concentrate on directing play to his flank. <br><br>In the 62nd minute, James Maloney hoisted a bomb to Manu’s wing, a ploy that had reaped them plenty of rewards this season.<br><br>Unable to catch the ball on the full Manu, deliberately batted the ball back towards teammates in an effort to retain possession.<br><br>Lewis Brown was in the best position to regather but hesitated for an instant which was enough time for stand-in Titans fullback William Zillman to zip past and grab the ball.<br><br><b><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=905&amp;fixtureid=50020102701&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=bigcollision&amp;period=2&amp;time=1301">CLICK HERE to see Manu's try, followed by the desperation play from Zillman which turned the game.</a></b><br><br>At that time the Gold Coast were really struggling, having seen little of the football, and the desperation of Zillman’s effort changed the course of the game back their way.<br><br>In fact, after working the ball into the Warriors' 20 and then forcing a mistake, winger Kevin Gordon crossed after tremendous lead-up work from Mat Rogers and Steve Michaels to ensure the Gold Coast victory.<br><br><b><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=905&amp;fixtureid=50020102701&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=2&amp;time=1515">CLICK HERE to see Gordon's try to secure the win for the Titans.</a></b><br><br>Zillman went on to be named man-of-the-match and whilst he crossed for two individual tries, it was diving on that&nbsp; ball on the ground that was his biggest play. <br><br>In the 100 minute epic at the SFS the next night between the Tigers and Roosters, it was a ball that wasn’t claimed that proved the most crucial in this gripping final.<br><br>Clinging to a one point lead and forced to play a man short due to injuries, the Tigers fed a scrum with just 33 seconds left of normal time.<br><br>Unfortunately, lock forward Chris Heighington also hesitated in picking up the ball after it had made slight contact with teammate Andrew Fifita’s boot. This saw the Roosters' Frank Paul Nuuausala dive through to give his team the scrum win against the feed.<br><br><b><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=905&amp;fixtureid=50020102702&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=bigcollision&amp;period=2&amp;time=2554">CLICK HERE to see Simon Dywer's massive hit, followed by the scrum which turned the game against the Tigers.</a></b><br><br>Thirty seconds later skipper Braith Anasta kicked the most remarkable of field-goals to force extra-time in which the tri-colours prevailed thanks to a Shaun Kenny-Dowall intercept.<br><br>There’s no doubt that the Tigers have every right to feel hard done-by as that final scrum should never have been allowed to proceed.<br><br>Nuuausala at hooker and prop Martin Kennedy were never bound properly and Frank was clearly off-side in diving through the scrum.<br><br>However it was also only set as a result of the Roosters' Jared Waerea-Hargreaves being pole-axed by a high shot from Simon Dwyer which for the previous 26 weeks would have been penalised, giving the Roosters an easy kick from in front to win.<br><br>Ultimately though it was the failure of the unfortunate Heighington to pick up the ball at the back of the scrum which cost the Tigers victory.<br><br>In another nail-biter later that night, Canberra kept their roll going to defeat a fast finishing Penrith 24-22.<br><br>In taking on the Panthers, the Raiders knew that they would need to contend with a dangerous aerial assault if they were to prevail - especially with chief kicker Luke Walsh back from injury. <br><br>It was an assignment they did not handle particularly well, and for the majority of the night the Raiders looked increasingly vulnerable.<br><br>So much so that in the second half they were prepared to leave the bombs uncontested and deal with the situation once the ball had come down. A dangerous practice in virtually giving the opposition a free shot.<br><br>It was coming to a head in the second 40 minutes following the disappointment of a Terry Campese no-try for an obstruction. Leading 24-12 at the time, a Canberra try at that stage would have virtually wrapped up proceedings.<br><br>Instead the Panthers closed the gap to two after winger Sandor Earl produced two spectacular efforts to get the ball over the line. Not surprisingly the first coming off the boot of Walsh.<br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=905&amp;fixtureid=50020102703&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=2&amp;time=1302"><b><br>CLICK HERE to see Earl's amazing effort in the air.</b></a><br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=905&amp;fixtureid=50020102703&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=2&amp;time=1302"><b>CLICK HERE to see Earl's amazing effort in grounding the ball for his second try.</b></a><br><br>The high kick continued to terrorise the Raiders wingers until in the 73rd minute full-back Josh Dugan took the wind out of opposition sails by taking it upon himself to defuse the next bomb. His courageous catch secured much needed possession and put a full-stop to the momentum that the Panthers were rolling home on.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=905&amp;fixtureid=50020102703&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=linebreak&amp;period=2&amp;time=2355"><b>CLICK HERE to see Dugan's remarkable take, followed by his line break.</b></a><br><br>Three tackles later the brilliant fullback put effort on effort by making a long break which put his side on the front foot and in the right position to successfully defend their lead.<br><br>Finally, in the most one-sided of the qualifying finals, St George Illawarra always had Manly comfortably covered in the Sunday clash at Win Jubilee. <br><br>The under-strength Sea Eagles were brave and kept the minor premiers to just one try from a grubber in the opening half.<br><br>In fact, the underdogs were within reach until the Dragons opted to kick their 4th straight penalty in the 57th minute to push their lead to 14-nil. This Chris Bailey play-the-ball infringement took the scoreboard incentive away from the Eagles and was enough to break the strong spirit they had exhibited.<br><br><b><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=905&amp;fixtureid=50020102704&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=penaltyconceded&amp;period=2&amp;time=1032">CLICK HERE to see Bailey's play-the-ball penalty, followed by Soward's shot at goal.</a></b><br><br>At 12-nil there was just enough belief that it might be possible to at least send the game into golden point, even though they had already fired their best shots at the impregnable Dragons defence.<br><br>Once that lead got beyond two converted tries, Manly knew that they did not have it in them to score three times in the final quarter of the match.<br><br>Consequently, St George Illawarra relaxed and took more chances and they did exactly that with Matt Cooper snaring a double and Mark Gasnier a long-range beauty.<br><br><b><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=905&amp;fixtureid=50020102704&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=linebreak&amp;period=2&amp;time=2101">CLICK HERE to see Gasnier's 85m try in front of a frenzied Red V army.</a><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=905&amp;fixtureid=50020102704&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=2&amp;time=1614"><br>CLICK HERE to see Gasnier create Cooper's 101st try for the Dragons.</a></b><br>