We take a look at the defining moments of each match from the NRL's opening weekend.
Roosters 40 def. Rabbitohs 29
The Moment: What a shame all Souths’ good work came unstuck with the simplest of defensive lapses – and from the usual suspects Issac Luke and Chris Sandow who were ironically the architects of their captivating recovery. Having clawed back a 28-6 deficit to lead by a point with seven minutes remaining, the Rabbitohs firstly failed to secure possession from a short Roosters’ kick-off, then committed the cardinal defensive error of failing to ‘shut the gate’.
With Shaun Kenny-Dowall collared eight metres out on the right side of the field, the ball swept through the hands of Mitchell Pearce and Jake Friend before Frank-Paul Nuuausala ran across-field looking to pick up back-rower Tom Symonds on the angle. It was a telegraphed play that should have easily been shut down – but Sandow and team-mate Eddy Pettybourne over-committed to Nuuausala and Luke was tardy in coming across to plug the hole. The result? Game over.
Cowboys 16 def. Broncos 14
The Moment: Rookie Broncos winger Dane Gagai learned the tough lesson of not trying to do too much, too soon when one of his first touches in the NRL cost his side dearly. With the home team up 4-0 after 18 minutes, Gagai retreated to field a Johnathan Thurston clearing kick eight metres from his line. He ran the ball back strongly, stepping the defence neatly before appearing to become caught in two minds about offloading.
Unfortunately his brain’s crossed wires saw a feeble spill out the back that was pounced on by Cowboys No.10 James Tamou 28 metres out. Two plays later five-eighth Ray Thompson turned the ball back inside to Tamou; the giant back-rower beat four defenders in a powerful, jinking 12-metre run to the line and the Cowboys assumed a lead they would never relinquish.
Eels 24 def. Warriors 18
The Moment: A seemingly innocuous play in the 14th minute by unheralded 26-year-old Eels winger Etu Uaisele ended up having huge consequences for this game, the Warriors’ season and also for those of the New Zealand outfit’s opponents over the coming two months.
That’s how long club tryscoring record-holder ‘The Beast’ Manu Vatuvei is expected to be sidelined after sustaining a medial ligament injury to his right knee when charging the ball back. Uaisele drove low to tackle his opposite number, with Vatuvei’s knee crunching into the Eel’s left shoulder on impact. ‘The Beast’ was burdened and limped off. Two months? Gulp, Warriors fans.
Dragons 25 def. Titans 16
The Moment: Coach John Cartwright said this incident didn’t cost the Titans the game but he was adamant it was still ‘critical’. Hey Carty: there’s only one medical classification worse than critical – and that’s fatal. Of course we’re talking about the Dragons being awarded a try after Titans fullback William Zillman was felled by retreating referee Phil Haines when attempting to hunt down a Jamie Soward chip kick in the 53rd minute.
The visitors led 13-6 at the time; Soward piloted a deft chip from 12 metres out, with Red V fullback Darius Boyd charging through in support. Referee Haines sensed his vulnerability to the play and moved a few steps away – but into the path of defender Zillman. The couple crashed to ground, leaving the ball to bounce perfectly into Boyd’s hand for a decisive four-pointer adjacent to the right upright. To be fair to the Titans, Zillman may have had a play at the ball had Haines retreated backwards rather than shuffle sideways. Chalk it up to one of those things, eh?
Storm 18 def. Sea Eagles 6
The Moment: “Boys, the refs are serious. If your drop-kick restarts are even a few centimetres over the line, they’ll ping you, and the opposition will get a gift set attacking our line – oi, Cherry-Evans! Are you listening to me?” Guess not Des… the debutant rookie No.7 – who otherwise had a sparkling game – committed exactly that blunder in the 50th minute with the sides locked 6-all. From the ensuing set Storm centre Chase Stanley pirouetted his way over and the home side skipped 12-6 ahead with Cameron Smith’s conversion.
‘CE’ showed confidence and did some seriously good things on debut. But this? Big oops.
Raiders 40 def. Sharks 12
The Moment: Quite the NRL debut for Raider Sam Williams, a late call-up for veteran No.7 Matt Orford. The 2010 Toyota Cup Halfback of the Year had a monster game in the home side’s savaging of the Sharks, setting up winger Blake Ferguson’s 32nd-minute try and kicking a 40/20 that led to immediate points for Jarrod Croker.
But it was his try assist (one of three) for big Joe Picker in the 56th minute that was the standout. There was more than a touch of Johnathan Thurston about the way he ran to the line, set the defence off-balance, then one-handed to Picker who raced 22 metres to score. If Orford needs another week’s rest – or even three – the Raiders are in capable hands.
Knights 42 def. Panthers 8
The Moment: Just how Panthers coach Matt Elliott intends to snap his team out of their funk is anyone’s guess given their lethargic, zombie-like effort last Sunday afternoon. The players’ apathy was best exemplified when, with his side trailing 24-2 at the 49-minute mark, Knights interchange Matt Hilder was popped the ball 10 metres out from the try line. Surrounded by a pride of Panthers, Hilder looked cornered. But with a jink, swivel and a touch of hope rather than force, Hilder somehow managed to beat off the attentions of Trent Waterhouse, Luke Lewis, Kevin Kingston, Travis Burns and Adrian Purtell. They couldn’t even hold him up in-goal. Yikes.
Bulldogs 24 def. Wests Tigers 14
The Moment: Bulldogs centre Josh Morris showed the Wests Tigers’ much-lauded defence was there for the taking on Monday night when he split their front line open in the 26th minute to race 92 metres to score the opening points of the game.
And the speedster didn’t fob off just anyone – he trampled noted defenders Liam Fulton and emerging star hard man Simon Dwyer. Once through, he stepped Tigers’ fullback Wade McKinnon, lit the afterburners and streaked away, defying Lote Tuqiri’s dedicated but belated chase. Crucially, it set the Bulldogs on the front foot and they were never headed on the night.
* The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.