Eight games, eight moments: Round 3
Broncos 14 def. Titans 8
The Moment: There were a few talking points in this closely fought local derby. Like Titans centre Steve Michaels’ long-range try right on halftime that handed the home side an unlikely ascendancy. And Broncos winger Gerard Beale’s stupendous try-saving tackle on Titans fullback William Zillman in the 58th minute, when bookies were already paying out on the four-pointer. But the moment that mattered most occurred in the 67th minute, with the sides locked at 8-all and neither looking likely to budge. Broncos No.4 Justin Hodges, back on the paddock after a 545-day injury lay-off (v Storm, September 26, 2009), took a simple ball from a scrum 32 metres out. He ambled on a diagonal line and then, whoosh; a big right-foot step left Titans winger Esi Tonga grasping at air. Hodge pushed the ‘go’ button and loped away from the desperate, outstretched arms of (it must be said, lazy) inside defender Greg Bird to cross to the right of the goal posts and spearhead the visitors to a crucial 14-8 lead.
Rabbitohs 32 def. Eels 18
The Moment: John Lang and his boys must have spent most of last week in church, given the mount of divine intervention they received at ANZ Stadium last Friday night. Souths drew on the momentum of three miracle plays – involving Rhys Wesser, Dave Taylor and Michael Crocker – to seize their first win of 2010 over a firing-on-two-cylinders Eels outfit. Taylor’s late offload to winger Fetuli Talanoa for an 18-12 scoreline a minute into the second half, after the big second-rower attracted four defenders but was still able to deliver the goods, was heavenly. So too the bounce of Nathan Merritt’s centre-kick for Michael Crocker that sealed issue at 34-12 after 64 minutes. But the standout came when recently maligned fullback Rhys Wesser split the Eels’ defence off a John Sutton inside pass 40 metres out, then executed a sublime one-handed (his left!) ‘hail Mary’ flick pass from in front of his body that found Greg Inglis who final-passed to Talanoa for a 12-6 lead midway through the first half. Hallelujah!
Sharks 44 def. Panthers 12
The Moment: We’re not sure what they’ve put in the water out Cronulla way lately, but there are a few other NRL coaches wanting to know the secret ingredient that has transformed last year’s gummy sharks into a hungry, swarming pack full of urgency. Their newfound confidence has been of most benefit to young five-eighth Albert Kelly, who scored two tries and had a hand in two others in the seven-try savaging at Centrebet Stadium. The Sharks’ keep-it-alive second try in the 18th minute was their best, and it sucked the wind out of the Panthers who had just drawn level at 6-all. Kelly went to ground 10 metres out, with the ball sent right to back-rower Anthony Tupou, who kept it alive with a belated offload to Ben Pomeroy, who flung it infield. Hooker John Morris made the telling play, leaping and tapping the ball back basketball-style to Tupou, who passed to Kelly, who backed himself with a massive dummy and sliced through the tired Panthers adjacent to the goal posts. Do they have sharks in Lake Taupo on New Zealand’s north island? You can bet there’ll be plenty of them around next week when the Shire side takes on the winless Warriors…
Wests Tigers 34 def. Raiders 24
The Moment: The two competition points and the continued good form of the team, including star pivot Benji Marshall, were the upsides on a night of mixed emotions and some concern for the home side. Worryingly, they lost left-edge backline stars Lote Tuqiri (broken right forearm after 50 minutes) and Chris Lawrence (dislocated hip six minutes from fulltime), with the duo set to sit out extended periods (Lawrence likely until June). Marshall contributed three amazing try assists – but it was left to 112kg prop Andrew Fifita to provide a moment you might see just once a season. Fifita ensured he wouldn’t be a ‘nudie run’ candidate at the end of the year when he sprinted 50 metres to score an unconventional bookend’s try in the 68th minute, giving Raiders fullback Josh Dugan a nice ‘don’t argue’ face fend en route. (Special mention must be made of Benji’s dud conversion attempt from the sideline in the second half; it was like a weekend hacker watching Tiger Woods duff a shot 50 metres along the ground into a water hazard.)
Dragons 25 def. Warriors 12
The Moment: It wasn’t so long ago that any player who dared make a one-handed flick pass during a game risked the wrath of his coach. But times have changed; now flashy, low-security passes are all the rage. Like the interchange between St George Illawarra’s Kyle Stanley and left winger Brett Morris in the 52nd minute that resulted in the Dragons scooting out to a 24-6 lead. A typical Red V raid inside the Warriors’ 20-metre zone saw the ball sweep left, with fullback Darius Boyd’s right-handed tap-on finding Stanley. The gangly No.17 dummied and attempted to step the cover defence; appearing safely held, he flung the ball out the back of his right hand as he was falling to ground. The flick found Morris, who despite the attention of three defenders still managed a return flick back to Stanley, who lunged from close range for a telling blow.
Bulldogs 24 def. Roosters 20
The Moment: Corey Payne has done the rounds of the NRL since making his debut with the Dragons in 2005. He played two seasons with the Wests Tigers from 2008 before linking with the Bulldogs last year – with just 89 first grade games behind him prior to this season’s kick-off. Given the quality of his offload for Ben Barba’s crucial try on the stroke of halftime against the Roosters, you have to wonder why that is. After racing to a 12-nil lead after 12 minutes, the Dogs found themselves on the receiving end of a hat-trick of Roosters tries and a worrying two points behind on the scoreboard. But with his first touch of the game, Payne suckered in Roosters defenders Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Jake Friend and popped a wonderful assist for Barba trailing on the inside. It sent them to the dressing sheds with a lead they would not relinquish.
Sea Eagles 26 def. Knights 12
The Moment: On an afternoon when the Brookvale Oval faithful welcomed home Brett Stewart for his first outing in 568 days, it was another famous Manly name that seized the spotlight. In just his sixth NRL game 18-year-old William Hopoate announced himself as a crowd favourite with a stunning two-try performance. His bullocking effort in the 36th minute for a 16-6 lead showed enormous strength – but it was the no-argue fend on burly Knights centre Junior Sa’u and surge to the line for his second try two minutes after halftime that showed this kid has the goods. (This moment was also significant for the injury-ravaged Knights, with Ben Rogers sustaining his shoulder injury while attempting to halt Hoppa junior.)
Cowboys 34 def. Storm 6
The Moment: Dazzling skill, pace and strength from new recruit Kalifa Faifai Loa set the Cowboys on the road to victory on a wet night in Townsville. Up 4-nil after nine minutes, the home side needed to push home the advantage, and ex-Dragon Faifai Loa used his force to do just that, embarrassing one of the game’s most dependable defenders in the process. With 13 minutes gone, Storm halfback Cooper Cronk punted deep from the halfway line. Faifai Loa dropped back and caught the ball on the full while running towards his try line. Starting on his 10-metre line he turned, balanced up and set his legs pumping like pistons – breaking free of Storm skipper Cameron Smith’s tackle attempt and streaking down-field. With Billy Slater closing in cover, the 95kg winger turned the ball inside to support Matthew Bowen, who sprinted 45 metres and swan-dived over underneath the posts for a handy 10-nil lead.
* The views in this article are the authors’ and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.