Seven Games, seven Moments: Round 15
Broncos 21 def. Dragons 14
The Moment: It became increasingly obvious the longer this fierce contest went that a solitary play would determine the outcome. Four times potential scoring efforts were referred upstairs to video referee Sean Hampstead and on the body of video evidence it appeared he got every one right; disallowing Dragon Jason Nightingale’s grounding in the 16th minute (lost ball) and Bronco Gerard Beale’s ‘try’ in the 20th minute (knock-on into Dragon Jamie Soward in the lead-up); awarding Bronco Jharal Yow Yeh a fair try after his canny steal of a bomb off Rau Peni Tagive as the duo fought for control of the footy in the in-goal in the 32nd minute; and denying Tagive a four-pointer in the 49th minute after the slow-motion replay showed the Dragons winger had lost control of the ball while slamming it over the tryline.
So it’s disappointing that the only contentious decision that wasn’t referred upstairs proved to be an absolute howler. With the Broncos leading 10-4 three minutes before halftime, Yow Yeh made a stunning 50-metre right-side raid, dragged down just a few metres from the Red V’s tryline. They again hit the right side, Sam Thaiday one-hand flick offloading to Jack Reed, who sucked in winger Tagive and one-hand flick offloaded for his unmarked winger Yow Yeh. But the pass went to ground, clearly advancing forward. Incredibly referee Jared Maxwell ruled “ball thrown back before going forward” and blew his whistle for the try. Groan. Replays didn’t seem to support any touch from Tagive, and if there had been, the ball was clearly thrown forwards, not backwards, before touching the Dragon. Even Wally Lewis expressed sympathy for the out-of-towners! Sure, video refs can’t rule on forward passes, but they can confirm touches. Heading to oranges up 14-4 was a huge advantage for the Broncos. Sin bin, Mr Maxwell.
Rabbitohs 31 def. Titans 8
The Moment: Big Dave Taylor showed all the ball-playing skills that have made him one of the most damaging impact forwards in the game against the Titans. But Taylor also showed a new aggression in his running game, bouncing off opponents like a supercharged pinball and leaving would-be defenders seeing flashing lights. His charge in the 73rd minute with the bunnies up 15-8 was typical; ‘the coal train’ took the ball near halfway and chugged into four Titans defenders who appeared to have him covered. But nope. The juggernaut rolled down the right edge, offloaded to centre Dylan Farrell who linked with Issac Luke who threw a speculative overhead pass inside for winger Nathan Merritt to score his 105th NRL try.
In that kind of mood there’s no defence that can contain Taylor – heaven help the Blues if he turns up in that frame of mind for Origin III on July 6. (Small beef: Don’t want to keep harping on about the refs this week, but Luke’s final pass was almost five… metres… forward. Go on – check the vision! And ref Brett Suttor was in line with the play. Good thing the game didn’t hinge on it.)
Knights 16 def. Panthers 12
The Moment: While this game wasn’t high on quality it was packed with drama. And it heralded the arrival of a promising new Knights playmaker with more than a touch of Kurt Gidley’s skills. The clash featured bloopers such as a rare Knights scrum win against the feed and skipper Gidley failing to find touch with a penalty kick from just 30 metres out from the Panthers’ line, plus a Neville Costigan one-on-one steal of the footy after opponent Luke Walsh went to ground in a surrender tackle.
Costigan’s legal strip 35 in the 16th minute edged the Knights into scoring position, with 21-year-old Newcastle junior Ryan Stig stepping up and delivering a nice try assist in his NRL debut. Stig took the ball at first receiver, showed it in two hands as he half-skipped across-field then turned it back inside to Costigan who opened the night’s scoring. Just a week after Beau Henry was cut from the club’s future plans and released to the Titans, Stig’s performance in the No.6 would have plastered a smile on the face of incoming coach Wayne Bennett (well, maybe a small grin). His energy with the ball and his mannerisms were uncannily like Gidley’s. Could be a keeper, this kid.
See the Knights' latest promising halfback send Costigan over
Cowboys 30 def. Warriors 10
The Moment: Cowboys winger Kalifa Faifai Loa has provided more ‘moments’ than any other player in the NRL in 2011 – and the burly, boofheaded one was at it again as the Cowboys completed a record seventh straight win at Dairy Farmers Stadium. During a game marred by yet another contentious forward pass ruling – this one favouring the defending side and denying the Warriors a crucial try, KFL was an outstanding contributor, scoring two tries and offering two spectacular try assists. His first, with the Cowboys trailing 10-8 in the 58th minute, sparked a five-try flurry to which the visitors had no answer.
With four tackles gone, captain Johnathan Thurston hit Faifai Loa with a cut-out ball 35 metres out down the left edge. As Warriors winger Glen Fisiiahi motored across in cover the Cowboy cleverly dropped the ball onto his right boot, letting it simply dribble forwards as Fisiiahi’s attempted tackle drove the pair over the sideline. But Faifai Loa maintained his balance and when ‘the Fish’ dropped off, he re-entered the field of play, regathered the ball 11 metres out and, as Warriors fullback Kevin Locke mowed him down, fired it back inside to Thurston who scored. Simply stunning – and yes Andy Raymond: that wasn’t a try… that was a moment.
Watch Faifai Loa and Thurston combine for a brilliant try
Sharks 26 def. Bulldogs 10
The Moment: Sharks fullback Nathan Gardner’s solo try in the 25th minute highlighted the continued disarray of the Bulldogs’ right-edge defence in 2011. From a scrum 10 metres out from the blue-and-whites’ line Gardner received the ball chiming in as second receiver, catching out rookie Tim Lafai who was slow to readjust. This placed pressure on outside defenders Steve Turner and Ben Barba. All defenders held off the livewire Gardner who arced across the field and crashed over in the left corner. That gave the visitors a decisive 12-nil lead and came just four minutes after Gardner had set up his side’s first try, for centre Ben Pomeroy, with a deft left-foot grubber-on-the-run into the Bulldogs’ in-goal.
Meanwhile, Gardner’s four-pointer was one of three the Sharks inflicted on the Bulldogs’ right-side defenders, with one scored down the right. That brings the Bulldogs’ tries conceded ledger to 25 scored down their right edge to 14 down their left. If the trend continues oppositions will continue to exploit this glaring weakness – and the Belmore boys can kiss any hopes of a premiership goodbye.
Storm 12 def. Wests Tigers 4
The Moment: With increased fitness, video analysis and army-like drilling, there’s not a lot teams can’t defend against in the modern game. But Benji Marshall is one of the few exceptions. His try assist (his 16th of the season) for Beau Ryan to score in the right corner midway through the first half brought the 21,000-strong Leichhardt crowd to life. Benji took the ball at first receiver 10 metres from the Storm tryline, halfway between the left sideline and the goalposts. He drifted right, in front of the middle of the sticks, attracting the attention of the Storm’s compressed defence, then hurled a monster spiral cut-out pass that must have floated 25 metres, hitting the bread-basket of winger Ryan who strolled over unopposed.
It was the Tigers’ sole moment of joy; the clinical Storm registered only their second ever win at the venue and leapfrogged the Dragons to the top of the NRL ladder.
Sea Eagles 22 def. v Eels 18
The Moment: As the late Rex Mossop might have said while watching his beloved Manly Warringah almost butcher their dedication game to him: “God, spare me days!” The Sea Eagles were traveling kindly at halftime, leading 14-8 and they increased their lead to 16-8 shortly after the resumption. But tries to Ben Smith (53rd minute) and Justin Horo (64th minute) left them trailing by two points.
Inside the final five minutes they looked in need of some divine intervention – and they got it courtesy of a right-edge miracle play from 40 metres out, the ball sweeping through the hands before halfback Daly Cherry-Evans threw an unconventional netball lob for fullback Brett Stewart, who found Jamie Lyon who found David Williams on the wing. ‘The Wolfman’ was well covered by the Eels but managed a Sea Eagles special: a low, running kick inside for swooping supports. With Eels fullback Jarryd Hayne committed in cover on the Parramatta left edge and their right-side players slow to react, Manly No.6 Kieran Foran won the race for the ball as it bobbled in-goal, planting for the match-winner with just centimetres to spare. Thank heavens for that “tiny, diminutive, little” Kieran Foran, eh Rex? RIP Moose.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.