SEVEN GAMES, SEVEN MOMENTS: Jarryd Hayne's successful switch to 6, Foran does it all himself and Paterson takes revenge on the Knights...
Eels 22 def Wests Tigers 6
The Moment: Jarryd Hayne at five-eighth? Why not – the guy’s played everywhere else in a backline except No.7 in 2011. Hayne fanned huge flames from the smouldering ashes of the Eels’ premiership campaign against a Tigers unit clearly dispirited at losing yet another of their band, Tim Moltzen (who’s off to the Dragons). Hayne’s shift to first receiver following regular halfback Jeff Robson’s late withdrawal set the tone for the game from the outset, with his never-say-die offload in the seventh minute giving the visitors a glimpse of the horror night ahead. Running diagonally at the Tigers from 10 metres out he feigned an inside ball for fullback Luke Burt, then ploughed through fringe defenders Robert Lui and Gareth Ellis. The duo appeared to have him safely collared but Hayne defiantly freed his right arm and hooked a late offload for Jordan Atkins. The winger propped and, noticing Ellis and Lui had yet to get back to their feet and no other Tigers had drifted across to ‘shut the gate’, he straightened and charged through the messy ruck area to score untouched. Jarryd Hayne at halfback? If they need him… yeah, why not?
Warriors 22 def. Titans 6
The Moment: Clearly, Warriors fullback Kevin Locke isn’t about to give Lance Hohaia or Glenn Fisiiahi a chance at dispossessing him of the No.1 jersey any time soon. Speed merchant Locke has been in devastating form for the NZers in both attack and defence in 2011 and his involvement for Manu Vatuvei’s 57th-minute try rammed home his value. The Warriors led 16-6 when Hohaia initiated a left-side sweep on the first tackle, 10 metres out from the Titans’ tryline. The ball passed quickly through the hands but by the time it found Locke on the fringe Titans centre Bodene Thompson had charged up to shut down the play. In the one movement, Locke gathered in a tough pass, left-foot stepped Thompson, accelerated through the tiniest of gaps and overhead-offloaded towards Vatuvei as the Titans’ cover converged. ‘The Beast’ dodged opposite winger David Mead and ran around near the posts for the try that put the contest beyond doubt. The action didn’t end there, however, with Titans prop Matthew White making a clumsy late challenge, sliding his knees into Vatuvei’s back after he’d dived over. (Fortunately for coach John Cartwright and the Titans the NRL Match Review Committee deemed White had no case to answer.)
Sharks 26 def. Raiders 12
The Moment: When a defender gets his head in the wrong position attempting a tackle it’s usually he who is left reeling, not the attacking player. But that’s what happened to Raiders winger Reece Robinson when he fielded a clearing kick in his in-goal and was met by a wall of Sharks 10 metres into the field of play. Robinson aimed at Sharks hooker John Morris who ended up taking the brunt of his charge head-on… literally. The impact between Morris’ noggin and the ball knocked the Steeden from Robinson’s grasp, with Sharks back-rower Jason Bukuya picking up the spoils and strolling over for the easiest of four-pointers. The 26th-minute converted try gave the home side a valuable 14-6 lead and allowed them to play from in front all night. Talk about using your head…
Storm 28 def. Bulldogs 18
The Moment: The crowd at the Adelaide Oval may have seen similar leaps from players in that other code over the years but in the context of a rugby league scoring play, Matt Duffie’s sublime catch and grounding in this game will go down as truly the mark of excellence. The Storm always appeared in control but led just 16-12 with a quarter of time remaining before Duffie delivered a heaven-sent match-winner in the City of Churches. Halfback Cooper Cronk’s radar was spot-on as he sent a cross-field bomb to the right flank. Duffie and his Bulldogs opposite Jonathan Wright contested the kick, with Duffie catching the ball in two hands. Despite being knocked off balance by Wright and with just his left foot grounded, he twisted and planted emphatically for the try. The timing, balance and composure of Duffie’s leap and put-down were stunning. We can’t recall a better aerial grounding this year… and we doubt there will be.
Roosters 34 def. Panthers 26
The Moment: The Roosters won’t make the semi-finals but they will provide plenty of nuisance value for sides with their sights on the top eight. Just ask the Panthers. On an afternoon more akin to Oztag than first grade the Panthers missed 40 tackles and let the Roosters get into some rare attacking rhythm. The visitors bridged a 22-14 halftime deficit with a converted try five minutes after oranges before tri-colours skipper Braith Anasta stole the afternoon’s moment, determinedly snatching a Mitchell Pearce bomb from the grasp of Panthers fullback Lachlan Coote to dive over under the posts for a 28-20 lead.
Sea Eagles 36 def. Rabbitohs 22
The Moment: Prior to this game the Rabbitohs’ right-side defenders had let in 25 tries in 2011 – the second most in the NRL. So when the Sea Eagles found themselves in strife midway through the second half, trailing 22-16 after a stream of 18 unanswered points, halfback Kieran Foran decided to test the opposition’s right-side resolve. Following Daly Cherry-Evans’ brilliant last-ditch offload to keep a first-tackle play alive close to the bunnies’ tryline in the 56th minute, the ball swept across field with Foran grasping it 10 metres out on the left fringe. Arguably the five-eighth’s greatest strength is his ability to put supports through gaps (13 try assists, 10 line-break assists) so it came as a great surprise to the Rabbitohs’ line defenders Ben Lowe, Jason Clark and Chris Sandow when he continued to steamroll towards them and crash over. That deception had them guessing again just a few minutes later when Foran again took control inside the 10, targeting the same corridor and same trio. Result? Another four points, the lead and momentum gone… and the Rabbitohs left to ponder what might have been.
Cowboys 22 def. Knights 12
The Moment: Revenge is a dish best served cold? Not according to Cory Paterson… he’d rather deliver it to the table smokin’ hot. Discarded by the Knights two months ago, Paterson sealed a crucial win for the underdog Cowboys against his former team with a blockbusting solo burst in the 73rd minute. Paterson took the ball at first receiver 10 metres out from the Knights’ tryline and powered over interchange Ryan Stig on the right fringe for an unassailable 22-12 lead. He became the first forward in the club’s history to leave Newcastle and return to score a try for a different club at their HQ. And didn’t he love it? Paterson cupped his hand to his left ear and mouthed ‘What? I can’t hear you!’ to the stunned and silent fans who had cheered him on for the past four and a bit years. For the record, in his seven games for the Knights in 2011 Paterson averaged 75 minutes of game time for 10 runs and 71 metres. He tallied three line-breaks and hadn’t offered a try assist. In 54 minutes for the Cowboys on Monday night Paterson smashed out 10 runs for 96 metres, scored a try and made a try assist (for James Segeyaro) and a line-break. But he did miss four tackles… including a shocking attempt on Stig who was then able to put his skipper Kurt Gidley over under the posts. Still, it was Paterson who left Ausgrid Stadium with bragging rights over Stig – and his former team-mates.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.