Eight games, eight moments: Round 16
Bulldogs 16 def Wests Tigers 6
The Moment: The Bulldogs had this absorbing contest in the bag when they led 16-nil after Josh Morris’ 65th career try off a Wade McKinnon blunder in the 67th minute. The win extended their record to an unbeaten five straight at Campbelltown Stadium, stretching back to 1995. But it’s Tigers rake Robbie Farah’s innovative play for Tim Moltzen’s try three minutes from fulltime that commands a special nod of approval. Talk about necessity being the mother of invention: team-mate Andrew Fifita was felled a metre out from the blue-and-whites’ tryline, a pack of ’Dogs (including ubiquitous ‘pest’ Michael Ennis) clinging on to the prop for dear life, successfully slowing down the play-the-ball. Fifita played the ball and Farah, sensing Ennis was preparing to knock it from his grasp as he stooped to pick it up, simply stubbed his left foot at the ball and sent it dribbling between defenders into the in-goal. Fullback Tom Moltzen was primed for a grubber kick anyway and gleefully accepted the spoils. We wonder whether we’ll see that again from Farah – or indeed any other team; we certainly hope so. Just another example of how rugby league continues to evolve thanks to the skills of the stars.
Rabbitohs 16 def. Broncos 12
The Moment: Atrocious playing conditions greeted these sides in Perth, with puddles of water around the drenched nib Stadium on average ankle-deep – and some even deeper. It was the Rabbitohs who made a splash early, racing to a valuable 12-nil lead after just eight minutes. The highlight of the night came when bunnies No.7 Chris Sandow interpreted the conditions to perfection, spotting a wading pool in the Broncos’ in-goal and drilling a low punt into its murky mass. The ball pulled up quicker than a Rory McElroy sand-iron pitch shot and Rhys Wesser was on the spot to execute a three-point dive and beat the desperate lunge of Bronco Jack Reed to touch down.
Sharks 36 def. Titans 12
The Moment: Present any NRL team with 11 more sets of possession than the opposition and this scoreline – or worse – is a given. That’s what the Titans gifted the Sharks on a horror night at Skilled Park, completing at just 67 per cent to their opponent’s 82 per cent. With huge momentum Sharks skipper Paul Gallen was able to shine even brighter than normal, racking up two tries in five minutes from explosive short-range bursts that left the Titans reeling. It was his second, in the 54th minute, which sums up ‘Gal’ best. He charged onto a flat ball from dummy-half John Morris eight metres out, surged through the good tackle attempts of Greg Bird and Matt Srama, and having kept his left, ball-carrying arm off the ground, reached out to gently place the ball down for the try. Brute force, calculated finesse. Awesome stuff.
Raiders 25 def. Eels 12
The Moment: Just five days after losing a close one to the Sea Eagles the Eels probably looked down the other end of the park at their Round 16 opponents and thought “not again”, given the pink-and-white striped colouring of the Raiders’ jerseys to mark the Women In League Round. That feeling was reinforced when they trudged to the sheds trailing 14-nil, a scoreline spearheaded by Raiders halfback Sam Williams’ wonderful multiple-sidestep solo try in the 19th minute. But the game highlight came when the talented rookie iced the Raiders’ cake in the 75th minute. He charged down Jarryd Hayne’s attempted clearance kick, then soccer-kicked the ball twice, from 35 metres out and eight metres out, beating the terrier-like chase of Eels prop Tim Mannah to dive on the ball in the in-goal for the final scoreline. BUT… we can’t let slide referee Chris James’ questioning of Josh McCrone’s 73rd-minute field-goal. James pleaded with colleague Jared Maxwell to have the kick adjudicated by video ref Paul Mellor, believing it had “hit his own player”. Replays showed McCrone’s kick ricocheting off Eels hooker Matt Keating and lobbing over the crossbar. Aren’t OPSM getting good mileage as referees sponsor this year…
Storm 16 def. Warriors 8
The Moment: Replacement fullback Lance Hohaia, filling in for injured Kevin Locke, had a horror day under the high ball at Mt Smart Stadium with two blunders conceding crucial tries. The first came in the 11th minute when Storm No.7 Cooper Cronk hoisted a towering bomb from 45 metres out. We’ll give Hohaia the benefit of the doubt and say the mid-afternoon sun obscured his vision; whatever, the kick was uncontested, the ball landing 25 metres out and bouncing sweetly into the hands of chasing Storm five-eighth Gareth Widdop who crossed untouched for a 6-2 lead. Later, with five minutes remaining and the Storm ahead just 10-8, Hohaia spilled another Cronk bomb a metre out from the Warriors’ tryline. Billy Slater whizzed through to grab the loose ball and score the match-winner (and his second try of the afternoon) despite a last-ditch attempted tackle save from big Manu Vatuvei. It was good to see Slater even on the field, given his crunching slide into a metal barrier fence erected just a few metres behind the dead-ball line. Slater hit it hard while hunting down a ball in the in-goal with 20 minutes left on the clock. It doesn’t take much to rattle Billy, but this clearly did. In an era when the game prides itself on professionalism this potential for serious injury simply isn’t good enough.
Panthers 30 def. Cowboys 20
The Moment: Tries and action aplenty at Centrebet Stadium; but no moment was more special than when big Petero Civoniceva impersonated team-mate Michael Jennings with a sublime left-foot sidestep at pace to score. Trailing 4-nil after just five minutes the Panthers’ captain took the ball at first-receiver 12 metres out in front of the sticks, aimed his frame at Matthew Scott and Glenn Hall, scythed through the Cowboys’ duo and evaded last line of defence Matthew Bowen to thunder over. A special mention to Luke Walsh for making lemonade from a lemon of a pass midway through the second half. Leading 16-14 Walsh half-volleyed and juggled Travis Burns’ long lob from dummy-half, abandoned his set play and ducked back down the right-hand side where he cleverly put Luke Lewis through a hole (outwitting Johnathan Thurston and Ben Jones) with a delayed flat pass for a cushioning 22-14 lead.
Knights 18 def. v Roosters 10
The Moment: The less said the better about the Roosters’ bumbling effort against the under-strength Knights. If you want an example of lack of commitment on the footy field look no further than their sloth-like forwards who failed to “shut the gate” and readjust after the breakdown of a Knights’ attacking sweep in the 30th minute. Leading 6-4 the home side flung the ball from the right side of the field to the left, the movement fracturing when fullback Wes Naiqama threw a pass that was knocked down by Roosters’ centre Kane Linnett. Newcastle winger Peter Mata’utia scooted back to pick up the rebound, then arced around a brace of his team-mates 15 metres out, straightened and raced across without a Roosters’ hand laid on him. Maroons representative Nate Myles was a major culprit, standing landlocked in front of his goal posts. A real shame, given fullback Anthony Minichiello (the only tricolour to show any urgency on the above-mentioned play) celebrated his 105th career try to overtake 1970s winger Bill Mullins and become the club’s leading tryscorer.
Dragons 24 def. v Sea Eagles 6
The Moment: St George Illawarra pride themselves on defensive commitment. It’s what earned them a premiership last year and it definitely won them the night over a vigorous Sea Eagles unit in Wollongong. The Red V successfully defended six consecutive sets off their line in the five minutes before the break, including 33 tackles inside their own 20-metre zone, to head to oranges cuddling a 12-nil lead. Manly knew they needed to delve the depths of their creativity if they were going to crack this nut. Enter Kieran Foran and Brett Stewart who combined for their trademark play two minutes after the resumption: Foran took the ball at first receiver down the left blind side 20 metres out, dropped it onto the outside of his right foot and banana-kicked infield for Stewart to catch. There were six Dragons within a few metres of Stewart’s chase but so pinpoint was the kick it was simply indefensible. If this four-pointer is not on the shortlist of nominations for try of the year come September… well, then we’re in for a heck of a show over the back end of the season.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.