Eight games, eight moments: Round 4
Broncos 18 def. Panthers 10
The Moment: Retiring superstar Darren Lockyer may have butchered a certain four-pointer when he dropped a Justin Hodges pass 20 metres out from the Penrith line (it would have given the Broncos a commanding 12-4 lead after 17 minutes) but he more than made amends with the game’s telling play after halftime. On the third tackle of their set in the 53rd minute, Lockyer aimed his let boot behind the Panthers’ left-side defenders, stabbing a trademark chip for Jharal Yow Yeh. The ball landed deep in the in-goal, propped on bouncing and seemingly hung in the air before the dependable winger dived and grounded on the half volley. Locker has done this too many times over the past 17 years for it to be anything other than sheer brilliance.
Rabbitohs 32 def. Sea Eagles 30
The Moment: Nathan Merritt’s second try at Bluetongue Stadium looked to be the icing on the cake for the rampaging Rabbitohs as they darted to a convincing 32-14 lead with just 14 minutes remaining. But hindsight reveals it proved the difference between a win and a loss, providing the crucial buffer that allowed the home side to clinch the two competition points. And for the second week running Greg Inglis was in the thick of it. Souths spread the ball left 40 metres out, with simple passes from Chris Sandow to John Sutton to Inglis. With the ball in hand, Inglis propped and got on the outside of Manly centre Jamie Lyon; a sudden burst of acceleration from the new Bunny saw Lyon slip off his tackle attempt. Inglis sprinted down the left edge before firing a wonderful flat bullet pass inside to Merritt, who crossed for his 13th career try against the Sea Eagles (from 13 games) – the most by any active NRL player. In NRL.com’s match preview we wrote: “Jamie Lyon is a solid defender, although he missed nearly two tackles a game in 2010. Two missed tackles here could yield 12 points.” Well, it was only one missed tackle, but it cost them plenty.
Titans 23 def. Raiders 22
The Moment: Eighty seconds of madness from the home side handed the Titans their first win in the national capital and consigned the Raiders to their third straight loss – and second at home in as many outings in 2011. They had the game under wraps leading 22-16 inside the last minute of play and with a scrum feed on their 10-metre line. But inexplicably, a panicky, urgent retrieve of the ball from the back of the scrum by veteran Matt Orford resulted in a knock-on that effectively handed possession back to the Titans. (The Raiders’ forwards need to take some of the blame here, as they hardly provided their No.7 with a stable platform.) On the Titans’ fourth and regular play’s last tackle, a desperate interchange ensued: prop Matt White hit the line, spun and passed to back-rower Mark Minichiello, who grubbered a kick that rebounded off the Raiders and was regathered by Ryan James, who offloaded to Greg Bird, who overhead-looped a pass to Anthony Laffranchi who scored adjacent to the posts with the fulltime siren still blaring. Then 40 seconds into extra time Raiders winger Blake Ferguson fielded a kick 10 metres from his line and ran the ball back with a modern-day, one-handed carry. The ball fell free, a scrum was packed and Greg Bird calmly slotted the winning field goal on the first tackle.
Eels 22 def. Cowboys 20
The Moment: It certainly wasn’t pretty, but Luke Burt’s 75th-minute try clinched victory for the home side and elevated the veteran winger ahead of Brett Kenny as the proud club’s most prolific tryscorer. Having equaled Kenny’s mark of 110 four-pointers with a magical diving effort in the 17th minute, Burt was on hand to pick up the dregs of a spilled Jeff Robson bomb 20 metres out from the Cowboys’ line with the game in the balance. The try pulled the Eels level on the scoreboard and it was up to Burt to break the deadlock with a conversion from touch that sailed right over the black dot. A great escape.
Warriors 26 def. Sharks 18
The Moment: It took just two minutes for Warriors speedster Glen Fisiiahi to put his horror Round 1 NRL debut behind him with a flash of brilliance that set the Warriors on the front foot for a breakthrough season win at Taupo. With poor handling (three klutzy errors) marring his game against the Eels, Fisiiahi again had fans’ hearts fluttering when he loomed up alongside runaway winger Bill Tupou with the line open. Tupou had been put into space down the right flank by skipper Simon Mannering and looked for support when the Sharks’ cover defence converged as he neared the 20-metre line. Tupou’s difficult inside assist found the ‘Flying Fish’, who juggled the ball forward, then above his head before showing remarkable skill to take control and speed across for the early advantage. The moment was crucial for Fisiiahi’s confidence – he went on to score a second try in the 50th minute with blistering speed and footwork that proved the game-turner. But successfully grasping his first touch, when he so very nearly grassed it, was crucial.
Dragons 20 def. Knights 18
The Moment: Mark Gasnier has had a lean time of things since his return to the NRL, with just three try assists in his 12 games in 2010. But all that changed with one brilliant ‘flashback’ offload that ruined the party for the Knights in the week they welcomed their new grandstand and new ownership under Nathan Tinkler. With the Dragons 8-nil up midway through the first half, Gasnier contributed his first try assist for 2011 in trademark style. He took a flat Jamie Soward pass 25 metres out from the opposition tryline and picked out Knights’ left-edge pairing Junior Sa’u and James McManus. His diagonal run sucked in both defenders, with Gasnier able to lift his right arm and pop a precision offload for Jason Nightingale to cross from inside the 10. Given the Knights’ whirlwind finish, the try was a turning point. Welcome back, Gaz. More of that and you’ll be a contender for Origin.
Roosters 24 def. Wests Tigers 6
The Moment: They’re making voodoo dolls of Shaun Kenny-Dowall out Wests Tigers’ way. The No.4 destroyed them with a 60-metre, extra-time solo effort in Week One of last year’s semi-finals series, and inflicted more pain in their return clash last weekend. ‘SKD’ needed just four minutes to leave his stamp, scoring a typically blockbusting try that put the Roosters in the box seat early. Fed a ball from Todd Carney 20 metres out on the right edge, the centre made a mockery of the Tigers’ defence, with two massive right-foot sidesteps propelling him to within a few metres of the line. Despite appearing safely held by Chris Heighington, Geoff Daniela and Wade McKinnon, Kenny-Dowall still managed to free his arm and embarrass the trio by planting the ball over for a way-too-easy four-pointer. (Also, we really shouldn’t dwell on these things, but special mention to referee Tony Archer, who bounced back Iron Man-style after being accidentally flattened by a rampaging bust from Todd Carney in the 47th minute.)
Storm 30 def. Bulldogs 16
The Moment: Sometimes brilliance comes with a price – and indeed the Bulldogs paid dearly despite fullback Ben Barba’s spectacular save of a Cooper Cronk 40/20 attempt just 35 seconds into their clash at AAMI Park. With the ball destined to cross the sideline 15 metres out to give the home side a massive early advantage, Barba leapt through the air and tapped it back infield. Trouble was he was on his lonesome. Team-mate Bryson Goodwin appeared likely to win the chase for the ball ahead of a bunch of Storm chasers – but then baulked as he neared his target, realising he would be ruled offside if he made a play for it. In the split second that Goodwin took to dive behind the ball and put himself back onside, Storm winger Matt Duffie toed the pill through into the in-goal and dived on it for a crucial early try from which the visitors never recovered. It’s tough to be critical of Barba though; he may have come up “rocks” rather than “diamonds” here, but he will no doubt provide the Bulldogs with plenty of precious moments as the premiership progresses.
The views in this article are the authors’ and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.