EIGHT GAMES, EIGHT MOMENTS: Sandow does a Barba, Hayne and Uate produce some shockers, and the Storm's 'Big Three' strut their stuff.
Broncos 34 def. Cowboys 16
The Moment: When Brent Tate plunged over on the right fringe and Johnathan Thurston converted to trim the Cowboys’ deficit to 24-16 with 20 minutes to play, Broncos’ fans could have been excused for feeling jittery at the back end of Darren Lockyer’s record 350th first grade game. And the nerves would have been simply jangling when the home crowd-fuelled Cowboys pressed the Broncos’ line shortly after. But the probing attack went awry when Matt Bowen, who’d scored a dazzling show-and-go try earlier, popped up in the frontline and dabbed a speculative left-foot grubber that backfired big time. The kick appeared to come off Broncos’ back-rower Alex Glenn’s right boot; it skewed sideways, bouncing high into chasing attacker Tariq Sims’ head, before Brisbane winger Dale Copley pounced and ran 80 metres to score. As we’ve seen time and again in 2011, when an attacking fullback commits to the frontline and things don’t go according to plan, it almost always ends in tears. Just goes to show the tremendous counter-attack focus sides have developed.
Wests Tigers 32 def. Panthers 18
The Moment: There were nerves for Tigers’ fans at Centrebet Stadium too when a 16-nil lead eroded into just a four-point advantage shortly after halftime. That’s when the gold-and-blacks rallied with their trademark razzle-dazzle – only this time it came from ‘the unusual’ suspects. Lock Chris Heighington, who’d grounded a Robbie Farah grubber to open the Tigers’ account, charged at the defence from 35 metres out, getting away a flashy out-the-back flick that found second-rower Liam Fulton in support to his right. Fulton was felled by Kevin Kingston but managed a last-ditch pass back inside for Robbie Farah. The Tigers’ rake toed the ball forward, gathered at the line and touched down for a 22-12 lead that took the wind out of the Panthers’ sails. The play emphasised how a lack of urgency can kill off momentum. The Panthers had plenty of defenders covering the play but prop Sam McKendry and centre Junior Vaivai were too slow to react when Farah positioned himself on Fulton’s inside. It was a try that should not have been scored – and it sounded the death-knell for Penrith’s season.
Storm 40 def. Titans 16
The Moment: For a team missing their inspirational captain Scott Prince, the Titans can hold their heads high even though they were soundly defeated. Melbourne’s defence is the stingiest in the NRL, conceding just 11 points a game – the Titans’ bits-and-pieces unit put 16 past them. Only four other sides have made as many or more against them in 2011. And it’s not as though the Storm had an off night; they were at their blistering best at times, with the try engineered by their ‘Big Three’ on the stroke of halftime indicating their almost telepathic vision. On tackle four 38 metres out from the Gold Coast try line, Cameron Smith rushed in to dummy-half (cue the music from Jaws) and passed right for Cooper Cronk. The No.7 took on the defensive line running a slight angle, which sucked inside defender Mark Minichiello to commit to the man with the ball. Without looking, Cronk turned a pass inside where it found Billy Slater sprinting in support. Slater burst through opposite number Jordan Rankin’s tackle attempt 10 metres out to stroll over for a clinical yet creative Storm try.
Warriors 20 def. Knights 12
The Moment: Knights’ winger Akuila Uate no doubt left Mt Smart Stadium wanting back four minutes of play that cost his side all the momentum against the Warriors. The visitors were seemingly cruising when leading 12-4 with little more than a quarter of the game remaining when big Manu Vatuvei burst through from well inside his own side of halfway and thundered down the left edge. Knights fullback Kurt Gidley and Uate converged in cover, Gidley getting The Beast to ground 30 metres out but falling off the tackle, with Uate flopping on his opposite. Unfortunately he skidded off too; Vatuvei regained his feet and offered a superb left-handed flick offload to halfback Shaun Johnson who raced 25 metres to score. Four minutes later Gidley fielded a clearing kick in his in-goal and spiral-passed to Uate to make some inroads. But the Fijian Flyer spilled the Steeden like… well, a wet ball at Mt Smart Stadium. Six tackles later Shaun Johnson dabbed a grubber towards the left fringe, where Uate seemed a clear winner in the race for the ball. But he failed to get his hands on it and was crunched to the ground in a collision with chaser Joel Moon. It paved the way for Warriors’ captain Simon Mannering to touch down for a contentious try that saw the home side ahead on the scoreboard for the first time on the night. Did Moon knock the ball forward? We’re happy enough with video ref Chris Ward’s decision.
Sea Eagles 26 def. Eels 20
The Moment: The Eels made the running to be dominant 14-6 leaders at halftime before two moments of madness chopped their legs out from under them. First, in the 44th minute Jarryd Hayne threw a flat pass from dummy-half across the face of his goalposts that first receiver Ryan Morgan had no chance of grasping. Slapstick scenes followed as Morgan and ex-Sea Eagle Chris Hicks grappled for possession, with Manly’s Steve Matai swooping to touch down and get the green light from video ref Sean Hampstead. (Anthony Watmough literally rubbed it in, with a condescending massage of former team-mate Hicks’ head. We wonder what would have happened if the shoe was on the other foot?) But worse was to follow six minutes later when Hicks stumbled to field a clearing kick 10 metres out from his try line, following the wobbling footy back into his in-goal before spilling it like that’s what he’d intended to do all along. Matai was on hand again and the Eels were suddenly trailing 18-14. Looks like the Round 26 clash between the Titans and the Eels on the Gold Coast will determine this year’s wooden spoon. On the Eels’ pitiful second 40 minutes against Manly they’ll give it a real stir.
Rabbitohs 47 def. Raiders 18
The Moment: Clearly South Sydney have a ready-made replacement for retiring fullback Rhys Wesser, with Nathan Merritt bagging eight tries in six days in the famous red-and-green No.1. But they may have a problem filling the boots of Eels-bound halfback Chris Sandow. The No.7 ‘did a Ben Barba’ to turn a possible Raiders try in the 9th minute into a 6-nil lead. Sandow fielded a Sam Williams grubber behind his goal posts then hit the accelerator, scooting through the disjointed ruck. With Canberra fullback Josh Dugan up in the line to hunt the kick there was no custodian at home to thwart Sandow. It was left to winger Reece Robinson to speed across in cover; as he closed in a tired Sandow offloaded to Dylan Farrell who completed the raid. Farrell showed great insight to position himself for the assist – and a lot more dedication than a bunch of Raiders’ players who simply jog-trotted back up the field after the play.
Roosters 20 def. Dragons 12
The Moment: If sides in the top eight were asked to choose a song to play as accompaniment while running onto the field for their semi-finals showdowns the Dragons might like to consider the Talking Heads’ 1985 hit ‘Road To Nowhere’. The premiers have suffered a decline unseen in recent premiership history and, on the evidence, are unlikely to trouble any side they encounter from here in. Which is a pity – as they could well end up robbing a latecomer, like Souths, of the opportunity of making trouble after Round 26. Their latest embarrassment exposed a worrying soft underbelly, with Roosters veteran Jason Ryles crashing over from just a few metres out to open the scoring. But it was best illustrated when first receiver Mose Masoe used lightweight hooker Nathan Fien as a speed bump on the way to another sickeningly soft try, again from close range, in the 44th minute. It was Masoe’s first try of the year. Sigh. Todd Carney drama? What Todd Carney drama? The irony here is the Dragons’ woes are enough to drive their fans to drink.
Bulldogs 19 def. Sharks 12
The Moment: The Bulldogs remain mathematical possibilities of advancing to the top eight after falling over the line to get the chocolates in the Shire. For as long as the numbers say yes, they’ll dare to dream. They gained match-winning breathing space on the stroke of halftime when Greg Eastwood was allowed to play on after being felled by Sharks’ back-rower Jeremy Smith 40 metres out from his try line, referee Jared Maxwell ruling Smith had not completed the tackle. Fair call, too. While the Sharks’ defence was busy realigning 10 metres back from the ‘tackle’ Eastwood advanced the play past halfway, popping a ball to fullback Ben Barba, who went whoosh to send the blue-and-whites to oranges with a 12-6 lead. Although they were the first to score in the second stanza via Steve Turner, the Sharks rallied and owned the final quarter of this game. Barba’s try sealed the win.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.