Five games, five moments: Round 14
Titans 28 def. Dragons 14
The Moment: Gold Coast haven’t had many bounces of the ball fall their way in 2011 so it was refreshing to see their captain Scott Prince, who has similarly been down on form and luck, bag a fortuitous yet high-on-skill four-pointer that tipped the momentum their way against the Origin-ravaged Dragons at Kogarah. St George Illawarra had displayed enthusiasm and a surprising crispness to lead 8-4 at halftime; but doubt lingered over their ability to maintain the rage. What they didn’t need was Prince, with just three tries and four try assists to the midpoint of the season, to finally catch fire five minutes after the resumption. On a last-tackle play Prince took the ball at first receiver 10 metres out from the Dragons’ tryline, propped and dabbed a delicate grubber kick right of centre through the rushing Red V defence. The kick had plenty of smarts; the canny No.6 aimed it at referee Tony Archer who was standing on the opposition tryline. Consequently Prince managed to gain some vital indecision and a split-second screen of cover from defenders Jason Nightingale and Reece Simmonds, at the same time scooting through, splitting the pair and planting his hand on the peak of the ball to score.
Sea Eagles 24 def. Cowboys 4
The Moment: It’s hard to believe opposition sides continue to be blindsided by the Sea Eagles’ penchant for centre-field kicks for lethal fullback Brett Stewart. The home side couldn’t have hoped for a better start, Stewart swooping on a Daly Cherry-Evans cross-field grubber to score adjacent to the left upright for a 6-nil lead after just three minutes. Look closely though and you’ll see the play is built around strategy rather than luck. Cherry-Evans kicked the ball from 20 metres out but the angle ensured it advanced only 10 or so metres, into the ‘no-man’s land’ between the Cowboys’ defensive line and fullback Matthew Bowen standing deep on his goal line. Delivered with precision, it ensured Stewart regathered and crossed without a hand laid on him. It’s also hard to believe Stewart didn’t come into that other Stuart’s – Ricky’s – calculations for tomorrow night’s second Origin encounter after Josh Dugan’s unavailability through injury. Stewart was the incumbent in the Blues’ No.1 before injuries sidelined him in 2009-10. It must be hard for him, and Sea Eagles fans, to fathom why selectors have opted for Anthony Minichiello, the fullback in the poorly performing Roosters side, ahead of the high-flying custodian of the No.2 NRL team. For the record, ‘Snake’ finished the night with two tries and a try assist – he now has five tries and eight try assists from just seven games – as the home side bolstered their 2011 Brookvale Oval record to 6-zip.
Wests Tigers 26 def. Warriors 22
The Moment: If you wanted an example of why the Warriors should not be considered a premiership hope in 2011 look no further than their inept and costly attempt to shut down what should have been the panicked Wests Tigers’ last throw of the dice. Some opposition fans were already heading for the turnstiles at Mt Smart Stadium with the Warriors in complete control leading 22-4 with 18 minutes left. But then a remarkable Benji Marshall-inspired fightback saw the scoreline bridged to 22-16 inside the final 10. That’s when the Warriors should have shaken off their funk – and they were presented the perfect opportunity to return the pressure when a wild Marshall fling 40 metres out from the Warriors’ tryline hurtled 20 metres backwards to the Wests Tigers’ 40. Right centre Blake Ayshford retrieved the ball but appeared surrounded by the Warriors’ chase. Then some slapstick footy from the home side that no Warriors fan would have found funny: As Ayshford pushed the afterburners and charged, centre Simon Mannering slipped over. Halfback Shaun Johnson undid the good work of his solo try with a simply woeful jumper-grab tackle attempt. Ayshford continued his burst, looking for supports on the inside while Warriors’ prop Russell Packer ran interference like a ‘piggy in the middle’. Nonetheless Ayshford found a gap behind Packer’s raised arms and passed inside to Marshall, who sped over and converted to lock the game up at 22-all. Stupid and costly – both in this game and quite possibly the big picture for season 2011.
Broncos 25 def. Raiders 24
The Moment: Broncos No.7 Peter Wallace may have earned the two competition points with a calm field-goal in the third minute of golden-point extra time to sink the plucky Raiders’ comeback but team-mate Alex Glenn earned the respect of the whole Brisbane club with an inspirational game on debut as captain – at 22, the youngest on record. Glenn’s rampaging solo charge for a try to open the scoring in the 7th minute set the standard for the Broncos, who galloped to an 18-nil lead at the halftime break. Lock Corey Parker, away on Origin duty, is a cert for the captaincy when Darren Lockyer retires at season’s end – but the Broncos look to have played their cards about their long-term option when 29-year-old Parker calls it quits. For the record, crunching 19-year-old Raiders back-rower Josh Papalii bagged two tries within three minutes to rocket the visitors back into the match from the 63rd minute. Coach David Furner sees the 103-kilogram giant as a vital cog in the Green Machine pack in the future.
Storm 21 def Roosters 4
The Moment: This game was a heap closer than the scoreline suggests, with the Storm only seizing some breathing space courtesy of a dubious try to centre Beau Champion with 20 minutes to go. With both sides minus key players to Origin, the home side led 10-4 when makeshift halfback Maurice Blair targeted Roosters winger BJ Leilua with a pinpoint cross-field bomb to the right flank. A brace of players flew to contest the ball in the air but no-one could grasp it cleanly. Amongst the tangle of bodies Champion thrust out his right hand to claim the try – although replays seemed to suggest Storm winger Sisa Waqa got a touch in the air. The presumption then had to be that video ref Bernard Sutton ruled no knock-on. The decision soured an otherwise good night for poor old BJ Leilua, who scored a try and made a game-high 21 runs plus 158 metres.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.