Five games, five moments: Round 17
Broncos 16 def. Eels 12
The Moment: You can mark it down in your season diaries: Parramatta’s year was as good as shredded in Round 17 when the baby Broncos overcame the home team’s disjointed mixture of rookies and veterans. The Eels won the stats sheet but not the score sheet with errors, poor execution and a lack of urgency the reason poor old skipper Nathan Hindmarsh was left standing with hands on hips, glaring and shouting obscenities long after the fulltime siren. Meanwhile the Broncos took their opportunities and, despite missing 10 more tackles and conceding 216 metres more territory on the night, escaped with two valuable competition points that may prove crucial to their bid for a top-four spot. The turning point came shortly after halftime; trailing 6-nil the Eels looked certain to score through a swamping left-edge attack. But the play broke down when rookie replacement Pat O’Hanlon’s decoy run obscured the view of fringe runner Justin Horo, Luke Burt’s would-be try assist for Horo in space instead bouncing off the No. 16 and landing in the hands of Broncos’ winger Dane Gagai who sprinted 95 metres to score his second try of the night. Although the Eels thundered back into the contest courtesy of a Burt try double this was a 12-point turn-around that probably cost them their chance at playing semi-finals footy.
Panthers 20 def. Bulldogs 6
The Moment: Ben Barba may be one of the most dynamic runners of the football in the NRL but the Panthers exposed some serious flaws in his defensive game on a bitterly cold evening at Centrebet Stadium. Barba had an evening to forget both with his handling and his judgment, a raft of errors conceding two tries and leaving the Bulldogs adrift of their energetic opposition. Panthers halfback Luke Walsh was the man who turned the screws via his deft kicking game. In the sixth minute he chipped ahead from 30 metres out; Barba rushed to defuse the kick on the half-volley and mount a counter-attack but his timing was askew and the ball glanced sideways for Walsh to regather and send winger Adrian Purtell over by the goalposts for a 6-nil lead. But Barba’s absolute clanger came with three-quarters of the game gone and his side trailing 14-nil. Walsh hoisted a towering bomb from 30 metres out with the by-now jittery Barba the obvious target. Rather than look skyward and manoeuvre into position exuding confidence, the No.1 looked around for a team-mate to help him out… like big Jamal Idris who was trotting back in screening mode. But no. Barba let the ball bounce, Panther Travis Burns pounced and at 20-nil the game was as a good as gone. We’re prepared to give the youngster the benefit of the doubt, given he had a 100 per cent defusal rate on both short and chip kicks and a healthy 75 per cent success rate in taking care of bombs prior to this shocker.
Sharks 26 def. Rabbitohs 4
The Moment: Anthony Tupou’s enthusiastic performance was a throwback to his representative days, when the agile back-rower used to terrorise oppositions with an indefensible offload. He pulled just such a play out of his memory bank on the stroke of halftime with the Sharks leading the befuddled Rabbitohs 14-nil. ‘Toops’ took the ball at first receiver 10 metres out and targeted the shaky short-side defence. He crunched into Dylan Farrell, side-stepping the mistimed shoulder charge of bunnies No.7 Chris Sandow, who was left pummeling thin air. With Nathan Merritt leaving his wing to assist the play, Tupou spun in the tackle and one-arm, overhead-offloaded to unmarked winger Matthew Wright who scored for a 20-nil lead at the break.
Knights 14 def. Dragons 10
The Moment: Like his Top Gear namesake, Newcastle’s ‘Stig’ has a cool head and plenty of pace – and he combined both to help his side lap the premiers in Wollongong. Knights coach Rick Stone yanked 21-year-old Ryan Stig from the NSW Cup to help his injury- and Origin-depleted side maintain their premiership push. He hasn’t looked out of place on the big stage and has been pivotal to their three consecutive wins. Stig scored a try and conjured a try assist against the Dragons, his solo four-pointer in the 62nd minute proving the match-winner. With the sides locked at 6-all he showed excellent judgment from 10 metres out, backing himself against the tired Dragons’ defence to force his wiry frame between Jon Green and Kyle Stanley. But his try assist for Keith Lulia six minutes earlier showed the vision and skills of a marquee playmaker. On a last-tackle play, Stig took the ball at first receiver 11 metres out from the Dragons’ line, shut out the distraction of decoy runner Chris Houston close to his right and fired a bullet-like flat pass across Houston’s chest that found Lulia, who stepped the disjointed defensive line to crash over and get the Knights into the game. Memo any NRL team looking for a good back-up halfback (Souths? Dragons? Warriors?): the kid is off contract.
Raiders 38 def Roosters 12
The Moment: As the scoreline indicates there was more than just the bounce of the ball between these sides – although Raiders winger Blake Ferguson was happy that’s how things fell for him shortly after halftime. Ferguson’s 46th minute ‘solo’ effort helped the Raiders to a 22-12 lead over the not-so-plucky Roosters and he showed a bunch of skills during the play. First, he pulled in a cut-out pass from behind him 40 metres out down the right flank. He then raced downfield and when confronted by Roosters fullback Mark Khierallah, chip-kicked over the head of the rookie. Team-mate Josh McCrone and Roosters captain Braith Anasta were the closest chasers – but the ball propped high in the air over their heads, with Ferguson leaping to grasp it in two hands and plant for a sensational four-pointer. Approaching the hour the chooks demonstrated just why their heads are on the cutting blocks for this year’s wooden spoon. Incredibly, after a Raiders’ attacking raid had seemingly broken down, Jarrod Croker was able to pick up a rolling offload close to the try line and beat the attention of five Roosters, none of whom had a red-, white- or blue-hot go at trying to stop him. Memo tipsters: put a fork in them, they’re done.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.