EIGHT GAMES, EIGHT MOMENTS: Sandow does it again, Gardner's brain-snap helps the Roosters and the Dragons botch it in Melbourne.
Rabbitohs 26 def. Cowboys 24
The Moment: For the second time in five days a Chris Sandow long-range solo run led to a sensational Rabbitohs try. But whereas Sandow’s 90-metre dash for Dylan Farrell to score last week was added entertainment in a resounding thrashing of the Raiders, this week’s scamper was the catalyst to a great escape that kept their 2011 premiership dream burning.
The Cowboys were in control leading 24-18 with four minutes remaining and swarming in attack down the left edge 20 metres out when Sandow jumped out of the defensive line to snaffle a Johnathan Thurston pass and race downfield. Cowboys fullback Matt Bowen headed the chase but he fell off his tackle attempt before five-eighth Ray Thompson dragged the No.7 down with a copybook diving try-save 20 metres short of the Cowboys’ goal line. The bunnies realised the importance of a quick shift to the left side of the field, where Dave Taylor under-armed for Chris McQueen to plunge over and bridge the gap to two points. His rib cage still heaving after his sprint, Sandow calmly slotted the equaliser to send the rain-sodden contest into golden point. The record books show a penalty against James Segeyaro for a high shot on Rabbitohs’ hooker Issac Luke saw Sandow boot the match-winner 84 minutes into play, but the bantam bunny’s dash and sideline conversion were the ‘hero’ plays.
Storm 8 def. Dragons 6
The Moment: With its one-try-apiece scoreline this attacking slugfest boiled down to missed chances – and the Dragons were the ones left ruing what might have been. The premiers made the running in the opening quarter and should have snatched a six-nil lead when they spread-eagled the Storm down the left edge near halfway with just five minutes on the clock. The raid saw Bronx Goodwin, substituting for Brett Morris on the left wing, charge at Billy Slater 30 metres out with Matt Cooper, unmarked, sprinting in support to his right. But this being just his second outing in 2011, Goodwin lacked the savvy to ensure the play got the ending it deserved. He ran a stride too many, offered indecision, and was forced to dummy inside for fear of Slater swooping on an intercept. Cooper held his hands out in disbelief; Dragons’ fans let out an audible groan.
Sure, they still banked a 6-nil lead when Kyle Stanley crossed in the 18th minute – but that should have made it 12-nil. And from there, with confidence, who knows what may have transpired. Losing Goodwin to a season-ending knee cruciate ligament injury in the 12th minute compounded matters – it left them a man down on their interchange and demanded creative force Stanley play the whole game on the wing rather than at centre, which would have allowed Beau Scott to shift back to the pack. But that’s rugby league. Footnote: what’s with the Dragons continuing to allow bombs to bounce? Weird stuff.
Titans 26 def. Raiders 18
The Moment: The Raiders may have made double the line-breaks of the Titans in this clash (4-2) but it was Gold Coast winger David Mead’s electrifying bust shortly after halftime that proved the most important on the night. Trailing 12-6 at the break the Raiders pressed the issue down the left edge in the 46th minute – but a spilled Sam Williams pass, one of 15 errors made by the visitors on the night, saw speed machine Mead sprint 90 metres from a standing start, straight through the disorganised Raiders’ ruck, for a 12-point advantage. You could argue there were plenty of ‘sleeper’ Titans impeding the Canberra defenders, but it was a Raiders’ blunder so they were hardly acting intentionally. The result leaves the Raiders, Titans and Eels within a competition point of each other in the ‘race’ for the wooden spoon.
Roosters 36 def. Sharks 25
The Moment: A seven-point lead with eight minutes to play should have been enough to see the Sharks home in this spiteful encounter. That they imploded to gift the Roosters three tries at the death pretty much sums up why they are still a mathematical possibility for the wooden spoon with just two weeks of the season to run. Forget the players – Cronulla fullback Nathan Gardner is probably still asking himself what he was thinking when he soccer-kicked Braith Anasta’s 73rd-minute grubber across the face of his goal posts rather than simply gather the ball on his goal line and fall into the field of play.
His gaffe gaffed the Sharks; the ball rebounded off the right upright and Roosters halfback Jake Friend picked up the pieces to bridge the gap to a point. Before they could rid that play from their minds Shaun Kenny-Dowall combined with Anthony Minichiello to seize the advantage and a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory was complete.
Warriors 26 def. Panthers 12
The Moment: Ivan Cleary may have had mixed feelings watching the first half of this clash unfold. On the one hand he would have been delirious about his side’s 16-nil halftime lead. On the other he would have been a little anxious at the missed opportunities, lax ball security and lack of focus that marred the play of the side he’ll coach from next year. First Trent Waterhouse bumbled a certain four-pointer with the line open. Second Michael Jennings surrendered six points on his goal line with an asking-for-trouble one-arm ball carry. Then the killer blow, with Warriors’ fullback Kevin Locke fielding a Brad Tighe chip kick and racing 65 metres to cross untouched.
What made that play all the more surprising was that Locke caught the ball with his back to the advancing chasers, hoping to shield himself from impending impact. He needn’t have been concerned. Tighe and winger Adrian Purtell simply looked on as Locke rose and scooted away. The win elevated the Warriors to fourth on the ladder; should they hold their nerve over the closing fortnight it will be tough for the Wests Tigers or Cowboys (our tips for fifth place) to better them at home in Week One of the finals.
Sea Eagles 27 def. Bulldogs 16
The Moment: Another one bites the dust…. despite playing with energy and purpose – two qualities sadly lacking for the majority of their 2011 premiership campaign – the Bulldogs just couldn’t quite get the job done at Brookvale Oval. The visitors were still in the contest trailing 19-16 at the 65-minute mark when an attack of the ‘guilts’ led to their season’s ultimate demise.
Sea Eagles back-rower Anthony Watmough played the ball near halfway, with Steve Matai scooping it up and looking to advance into the disorganised ruck. Watmough gestured in disbelief to referee Jason Robinson as Bulldogs markers Josh Reynolds and Andrew Ryan half-heartedly grasped at Matai. Time stood still as Matai, Reynolds and Ryan waited for adjudication before Matai thought “forget this” and sped downfield. He shrugged off a host of wannabe Bulldogs defenders and crunched over for the match-winner. The match was also memorable for a series of vicious shoulder charges. We’re not keen on players deliberately lining up an opponent, with no intention of making a tackle. It’s going to end in tears for someone, either through injury or suspension. And soon.
Wests Tigers 31 def. Eels 12
The Moment: A clinical display by the Tigers – although coach Tim Sheens would be concerned about his charges allowing an opponent to make a significant dent in a 16-nil lead for a second consecutive week. The game was anyone’s after the Eels clawed back to 16-12 approaching the three-quarter mark before a Jarryd Hayne blunder gifted the Tigers a long-range try and some relief. It was the type of mistake that has plagued the Eels all year and illustrated why they are rooted to the bottom of the NRL ladder with just a fortnight to shake off the dreaded wooden spoon.
From a simple scrum feed 40 metres out from the Eels’ try line first receiver Benji Marshall fed centre Blake Ayshford on the right fringe. Hayne rushed up quickly out of the defensive line to crunch Ayshford before he could take more than a stride – which would have been fine had he maintained his grip on his opponent. But Ayshford all too easily shrugged off the attempt, beat centre Justin Horo’s desperate lunge and sprinted away to score.
Broncos 26 def. Knights 6
The Moment: Two huge plays within two minutes and within metres of each other on the Ausgrid Stadium turf chipped away at Newcastle’s top-eight hopes as the Broncos cemented third spot on the ladder. Brisbane dominated the first section of play but incredibly had just a 10-6 scoreline to show for it. They seemed certain to surrender that lead when Knights’ fullback Kurt Gidley chimed in down the left side 30 metres out on a last-tackle play, stepping inside the Broncos’ cover before hooker Andrew McCullough and interchange Matt Gillett miraculously wrapped him up in-goal. Two minutes later the Knights again looked menacing when Ryan Stig initiated a short raid down the left fringe that created a three-on-two advantage. But then Neville Costigan forgot one of the first rules of rugby league: never pass the ball with your back to an opponent. And especially when that opponent is one of the fastest players in the NRL. Broncos’ winger Jharal Yow Yeh was on the spot to intercept Costigan’s pivoting offload and sprint 90 metres for a soul-destroying try and a 16-6 lead that restored rightful order on the night. Brisbane suffered a major blow when Justin Hodges succumbed to yet another hamstring complaint, this one threatening the remainder of his season. Of some comfort for Broncos’ fans though is the fact Brisbane have entered the arena without Hodges on seven occasions in 2011, for five wins.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.