EIGHT GAMES, EIGHT MOMENTS: Hayne's golden point blunder, Bowen keeps the Cowboys alive, and the Dragons blow it in Canberra.
Bulldogs 8 def. Eels 7
The Moment: For the second week in a row poor decision-making under pressure by the Eels opened the door for their opponent to snatch a golden-point victory. Last week it was Jarryd Hayne’s failure to get a clearing kick away in the final 15 seconds of the game against the Panthers and there was a touch of déjà vu about his last-tackle option from 40 metres out in the 86th minute of this gripping encounter. Hayne elected to rush a field-goal attempt but, easily harassed by the alert Bulldogs’ marker defenders, he duffed it barely 15 metres along the ground. Consequently the ’Dogs were gifted a huge territorial advantage at a crucial time; they marched up the field, tossed the pill to Trent Hodkinson on the last tackle and the No.6 piloted over his second field-goal of the evening to drown Parramatta’s semi-finals hopes. Spare a thought for the Eels’ workhorse captain Nathan Hindmarsh, who lay sprawled on the soggy ANZ Stadium turf after the siren, a mixture of distraught and spent. It was Hindmarsh who leapt out of marker to hustle Hodkinson out of potting the match-winner in the 83rd minute, and Hindy again the only Eel to pressure Hodkinson with another attempted charge-down of the winning kick. (But was Hindmarsh blocked by an attacking ‘sleeper’ on the last play? You be the judge.)
Storm 26 def. Broncos 6
The Moment: The Storm’s second try of this blockbuster was special for two reasons: Melbourne winger Justin O’Neill’s incredible aerial grounding and Broncos’ captain Darren Lockyer’s selfless effort to stop it. With the Storm leading 8-6 in the 57th minute, Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk shifted the ball left, with second-rower Sika Manu confusing the defence by running a decoy line. The ball passed from Cronk to Gareth Widdop to Dane Nielsen and finally to O’Neill, with Lockyer racing across in cover. As he has done so often in his 16-year career the veteran put his body on the line, slamming into O’Neill, with his shoulder and right jaw taking the full brunt. But O’Neill was able to withstand the challenge and, despite brushing the corner post, he planted for a spectacular try that Cameron Smith converted for an eight-point lead. Meanwhile 34-year-old Lockyer was left to tenderly paw at his jaw, possibly muttering under his breath the words made famous by actor Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon: “I’m too old for this…”
Cowboys 28 def. Titans 20
The Moment: Cowboys minus Johnathan Thurston equals… well, the jury is still out despite North Queensland’s gritty comeback win over the now wooden spoon favourites Gold Coast. But one thing’s for certain: they can’t do without Matthew Bowen. It was the fullback’s try-saving tackle on Titans winger David Mead that was the game’s defining play. The Titans could have gone to the halftime break leading by two converted tries had the Cowboys’ No.1 not rounded up one of the fastest players in the NRL in stunning fashion. The copybook diving tackle in the 38th minute was Bowen’s 16th try-save for the year and confirmed his ranking as the No.1 exponent in the 2011 competition.
Wests Tigers 19 def. Roosters 12
The Moment: All the talk in the wash-up to this game concerned Todd Carney’s ‘forward’ pass to Braith Anasta, with the Roosters’ skipper called back after streaking away for what looked like being the match-leveling try in the 70th minute. But it was a split-second lapse in awareness from hooker Jake Friend shortly before halftime that was even more costly. Leading 12-8, halfback Mitchell Pearce chip-kicked from 40 metres out; in the ensuing chase and scramble Friend emerged with the ball, brushed off some feeble tackle attempts and crossed for what would have been the Roosters’ third four-pointer in eight minutes. With so much kafuffle in the lead-up referee Adam Devcich played things safe and deferred to video referee Russell Smith – and a good thing he did, as the replay revealed Friend was a metre offside at the kick. That was the fine line between taking an 18-8 lead into oranges and lamenting a dud call in the post-match presser.
Knights 18 def. Sharks 0
The Moment: It’s amazing how often attacking plays that don’t go to plan execution-wise end up reaping dividends on the scoreboard. Just such an occurrence broke the arm wrestle at Toyota Stadium when Jarrod Mullen and Richie Fa’aoso were a split second out of synch combining in the 53rd minute. Mullen took the ball at second receiver 10 metres out, in front of the Sharks’ goalposts, and threw a no-look short pass as Fa’aoso charged through on a straight line. The pass was clearly intended for the front-rower but he over-ran it, the ball bouncing out the back. Fortunately five-eighth Ryan Stig was on the spot to collect the dregs and shift it wide. The stutter in attack caught the Sharks off guard and an overlap was presented on the right edge, where Akuila Uate stepped Colin Best and scored (but not before being tripped by Best, whose reflex action saw him placed on report). Coincidentally Fa’aoso figured – or rather, didn’t figure – in the Knights’ second try just three minutes later, when captain Kurt Gidley dummied to him and instead passed inside to Matt Hilder, the interchange crossing to give the visitors a 14-nil lead.
Warriors 48 def. Rabbitohs 16
The Moment: Trailing 6-nil with just four minutes on the clock the Rabbitohs needed a quick strike to get them back on an even keel – but Shaun Johnson’s long-range intercept try all but sank their afternoon, as well as their slim finals hopes. It was Souths who actually looked like they might draw blood in the 9th minute when Issac Luke schemed down the right edge, with a blur of bodies in motion confronting the outnumbered Warriors’ left-side backs – including fullback Rhys Wesser who charged in to create the overlap. That blur seemed to dazzle even Luke, who mistimed his pass for Chris Sandow, with Johnson jumping out of the defensive line to snare the ball and sprint 88 metres to score. With Wesser not at home they were never a chance of stopping him. That was the game right there.
Sea Eagles 12 def. Panthers 8
The Moment: There’s a well-worn saying that there is no substitute for speed in the NRL… but you can guarantee urgency, or a lack of it, will also find out the imposters. With their spot in the top eight on the line the Panthers held their own against the Sea Eagles in the first half and trailed just 6-4 at the break. But a mix of speed from Manly and complacency from the home side turned the game 15 minutes from time. Kieran Foran sparked and finished the move, passing deep behind decoy runner Jamie Buhrer for fullback Brett Stewart down the left edge 40 metres out. Stewart sized up the situation in the blink of an eye, dummying to his well-covered outside men then hitting the gas and catching out Panthers’ back-rower Nigel Plum who was slow to react in cover. But Plum wasn’t the only mountain man at fault. Foran showed great vision to ‘stay alive’ in the play and trailed through to be in position to take Stewart’s offload 15 metres out from the try line and bust through the last line of defence and score. His urgency was in great contrast to the lumbering Panthers’ cover defenders who should have been on the spot to nab him.
Raiders 24 def. Dragons 19
The Moment: So the Red V’s 11-year hoodoo in the nation’s capital continues. The Dragons kissed goodbye to any chance of a third consecutive minor premiership or even a crucial top-two finish after a spectacularly tentative second half that allowed the Raiders to steal the game at the death. We could point to a bunch of turning points… like Ben Creagh falling for Josh McCrone’s dummy defending on his try line; or Josh Dugan shrugging off Jamie Soward’s rush-of-blood charge off his try line to score early in the second half; or Soward’s uncharacteristic one-from-four conversion rate; or Creagh’s delicate knock-on near his try line that resulted in Blake Ferguson crashing over in the corner from the ensuing scrum. But no. In the end it came down to Ferguson’s quick thinking on Dugan’s short kick-off after Soward had put the visitors ahead with a flashy 40-metre field-goal inside the final two minutes. The Raiders’ fullback kicked high to the left – Ferguson, the tallest Raider on the park at 191cm, abandoned his right wing to involve himself in the crucial play. He may not have come up with the ball but his towering presence had the next best result, with Mark Gasnier pressured out of the contest and the Raiders coming up with possession with less than a minute on the clock. It’s history now that Dugan scored his second try of the evening to snatch a memorable win. It was the premiers’ fourth loss from their past six games – can you imagine the atmosphere in the coach on their three-hour trip home? Ouch.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.