EIGHT GAMES, EIGHT MOMENTS: Two extra-time thrillers, Lockyer turns back the clock, and a bit of Benji brilliance.
Broncos 30 def. Titans 10
The Moment: At 34 and with less than three months and a possible 10 games left in his NRL career, Darren Lockyer may not bust as many moves as he used to. But boy can he still bust ’em. He treated all league fans to a vintage display before a packed house at Suncorp Stadium, contributing three exquisite try assists to guide the Broncos to a much-needed two competition points in the race for the minor premiership. The cellar-dwelling Titans were holding their own at 10-all at halftime but lost their grip on the contest a mere 20 seconds into the second stanza when Lockyer cut them open with just his third line-break of the season. The veteran No.6 received the ball 20 metres inside the Broncos’ half, three on three with the Titans’ outside backs down the right fringe. He deceived opposite pivot William Zillman with a glimpse of a feigned pass outside, then hit the gas, sprinted 30 metres, drew Titans’ fullback Luke Capewell and fired a precision-timed flat pass wide to Jharal Yow Yeh who raced over for a 16-10 lead. The duo combined for a second try in the 65th minute when Lockyer hoisted a towering bomb from 40 metres out. The height, direction and depth were pinpoint; it had just enough hang time to enable Yow Yeh to race downfield and snatch the ball from Capewell’s grasp, just a metre in from the right touchline. No luck involved there, just calculated brilliance.
Warriors 36 def. Bulldogs 12
The Moment: Canterbury gave the Warriors a fright with a 12-point onslaught in even time before the home side found their mojo to register 36 unanswered points and notch win number 115 in their 200th appearance at Mt Smart headquarters. Hooker Aaron Heremaia crossed for a try double, his first four-pointer in the 57th minute glaringly exposing the defensive inadequacies that have plagued the blue-and-whites’ season (1455 metres conceded per game, the most by any side). Absolutely nothing was on when Heremaia picked up the ball from dummy-half on halfway, but in the blink of an eye he’d stepped the lumbering marker defence of captain Andrew Ryan and interchange Gary Warburton and was away. Bulldogs’ fullback Ben Barba rushed up determinedly but Heremaia evaded his challenge with a wonderful body swerve to cross under the posts for a 24-12 lead that put the game to bed. (Special mention to Jamal Idris’ embarrassing near-miss line-drop out in the 30th minute; the ball barely travelled 30 metres and the dreadlocked centre was left sprawled on his backside on the soggy Mt Smart turf.)
Rabbitohs 21 def. Roosters 20
The Moment: Chris Sandow can be a bit hit-and-miss in defence (and we mean that literally – he missed a season-worst eight tackles against the Roosters) but he certainly knows how to pay his way in attack. Goal-kicking is the forgotten art of the NRL but Sandow’s contribution proved how important it can be on a night when the Roosters scored four tries to the Rabbitohs’ three, yet left ANZ Stadium without the two competition points. Sandow’s unblemished three conversions and a penalty were the reason the teams faced off in extra time and it was his booming 50-metre field goal in the 87th minute of the game that broke the deadlock. Full marks to Sandow, but reprimands all round to the Roosters’ defenders who, with the exception of marker Jake Friend, failed to put any pressure on Sandow on the crucial last-tackle play. It’s not like they didn’t know what was coming…
Wests Tigers 38 def. Cowboys 18
The Moment: The last thing the Cowboys needed after clawing back an early 12-nil deficit to trail by just two points at oranges was to allow the Wests Tigers to start the second stanza like they opened the game. But Benji Marshall had other ideas and with two dazzling involvements by the 53rd-minute mark he’d put the game beyond reach. First he showed up injured Johnathan Thurston’s substitute in the No.7 Michael Morgan with a simple dummy and step to score from close range. But it was his assist for Dragons-bound fullback Tim Moltzen that sealed the deal. Up 18-10, Robbie Farah picked up the ball from dummy-half 40 metres out from the Tigers’ line, darted right then shot a flat pass back to the short left side across the face of the ruck markers to Marshall. Benji’s eyes wandered left but he passed right instead, with Moltzen charging into space, dummying past Cowboys’ fullback Matthew Bowen 20 metres out to score.
Panthers 23 def. Eels 22
The Moment: If Penrith make the top eight they’ll be thanking two late moments of madness from the Eels that opened the door to their magnificent steal of this game. First, with 15 seconds remaining and the visitors leading 22-16, fullback Jarryd Hayne made a massive error of judgment with his last-tackle kick. Instead of giving himself ample time to boot the ball deep into space, Hayne kept the ball in hand and tried to run down the clock for as long as possible before kicking. This would have been okay… had he not then driven a low would-be clearance into the opposition that rebounded 20 metres and had to be recovered by Luke Burt. But then winger Burt blundered big-time. He presumed the tackle count had been restarted and, rather than grubber the ball over the sidelines to soak up the final eight seconds of the contest, he went to ground with the ball. So from the turnover the Panthers had just two seconds to get their act together… which, of course, they did courtesy of a seven-pass flurry which ended with Michael Jennings grubbering through for Lachlan Coote to score the equaliser. From a win to a loss in the blink of an eye.
Storm 26 def. Raiders 0
The Moment: Sometimes there’s injustice in the compilation of official game-day statistics. Billy Slater may have been credited with the try assist for Cooper Cronk’s four-pointer that raced the Storm to a 16-nil lead in the 53rd minute but Kiwi representative winger Matt Duffie was the true creator. Duffie fielded a Raiders’ clearing kick 15 metres out from his goal-line, waited for the Green Machine chasers then offered a lovely delayed double-pump pass that put Slater away. The speedster stormed up the field, drew Josh Dugan on the Raiders’ 40-metre line and distributed to Cronk who dashed away to score. Duffie was a standout contributor to the contest, which marked the first time the Storm had held Canberra scoreless. He also crossed for two tries, made two line-breaks and a game-high 20 runs (for 176 metres).
Sea Eagles 32 def. Knights 10
The Moment: Teams with semi-finals aspirations shouldn’t surrender tries just 44 seconds after the referee blows time on. It should all be about concentration, not capitulation. But that was the sorry reward for Knights fans shortly after kick-off at Ausgrid Stadium. They’d barely taken a bite out of their meat pies before the Sea Eagles raced to a 6-nil lead courtesy of an 80-metre sweep with just three of the game’s eventual 588 tackles completed. And it was too, too simple. Back-rower Vic Mauro was tackled on the left fringe near the Sea Eagles’ 20-metre line. He played the ball to hooker Matt Ballin, who passed to halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, who offloaded to Glenn Stewart who found captain Jamie Lyon. The crispness of the passing created an overlap on the right flank, with winger David Williams speeding down the touchline then firing an inside ball back to Lyon after drawing Knights’ fullback Wes Naiqama. When Naiqama’s kick restart flew dead in-goal for a penalty to the Sea Eagles back on halfway, you could just tell a massacre was in the making.
Dragons 38 def. Sharks 8
The Moment: Two tries down the left edge in the opening nine minutes confirmed St George Illawarra’s electric left-side attacking sweeps are back to high voltage. First centre Matt Cooper, back from a fractured eye socket sustained in Round 13, crossed after scorching through for his 13th line-break of the season (the third most by any player in 2011), then winger Brett Morris latched on to a Ben Creagh offload and, despite the attentions of three Sharks’ defenders, wriggled his way over for a 12-nil lead. Sharks’ fullback Nathan Gardner won’t like what he sees on the highlights reel – he could have prevented Morris from plunging over but the Dragon hoodwinked him into believing he was going to overhead offload to team-mate Darius Boyd on the wraparound. That split second of indecision left Morris free to slam it down for the try.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.