EIGHT GAMES, EIGHT MOMENTS: A miracle try-saver, a perfect decoy, and two more try of the year contenders.
Roosters 13 def. Eels 12
The Moment: OPSM might just consider a lengthy contract extension as sponsor of the NRL referees after Jason Robinson’s blunder in awarding Roosters’ prop Jason Ryles a crucial try in the 67th minute of this bottom-of-the-table clash. The Eels seemed to have it in the bag when they led 12-nil with 13 minutes to play before Robinson’s clanger. Roosters’ hooker Jake Friend popped a short ball to the charging Ryles just metres out from the Eels’ try line, the prop bullocking over under the goal posts. But Nathan Hindmarsh tried to roll Ryles on his back and also looked to wrench the ball free. We can only conclude that Robinson saw enough to be satisfied about the legitimacy of the grounding; unfortunately the slow motion replay revealed otherwise and left Eels’ fans far from satisfied. Tough to swallow with the wooden spoon on the line.
Sea Eagles 18 def. Storm 4
The Moment: Extraordinary skill and a huge slice of fortune saw the home side post a miraculous four-pointer to seize the early advantage in this possible grand final preview. With just six minutes on the clock five-eighth Kieran Foran sent the ball high to the left flank from 20 metres out. He pumped a tad too much weight on it though, and it drifted over the sideline – but winger Michael Robertson leapt high to bat the Steeden back to Steve Matai, who hot potato-passed to Anthony Watmough. ‘Choc’ wildly flung the ball back to the 30 metres mid-field, where prop Brent Kite fumbled then offloaded for halfback Daly Cherry-Evans. The No.7 feigned a kick, ran to the line then spiral-passed to captain Jamie Lyon on the burst down the right wing, David Williams hovering inside him in support. Here Lyon elected to centre-kick into the Storm in-goal; at this point Kieran Foran was positioned closest to his own goal line, on the alert to a possible Storm counter-attack fullback. But as Foran saw Lyon shape to kick he charged for the goal posts. Still, that he beat a bunch of Storm players to the contest was astounding – when Lyon’s kick landed Foran was still 10 metres from the try line, while Billy Slater and Maurice Blair were closest to defusing the issue. But that’s the beauty of the shape of a rugby league ball…
Bulldogs 32 def. Knights 22
The Moment: So many moments from both sides, both the good and the bad, contributed to the result of this remarkable game. Ben Barba’s ridiculously precise acrobatic grounding for his second try seized the highlights reel focus… but the game was gone by then. It’s difficult to say whether the Bulldogs won the night or the Knights surrendered. Certainly conceding 26 unanswered points in the second half would point to the latter. If we had to nominate one pivotal play it would be Jarrod Mullen’s flimsy missed tackle on Trent Hodkinson in the lead-up to Jamal Idris’ try that got the home side within striking distance (trailing just 22-20) in the 57th minute. Mullen had the opportunity to shut down the Bulldogs’ vibrant team movement on the right flank. In fact, he should have. Indeed his arm grab would have earned the wrath of an under-15s coach. It was the Bulldogs’ third try in little more than 15 minutes and the momentum it provided sucked all the positive body language from the visitors. Mullen wasn’t alone in poor application though – the side missed a staggering 53 tackles on the night. Gulp! On this performance they’ll provide just fodder for the Storm in Week One of the finals should they beat the bunnies at home on Friday night.
Cowboys 28 def Sharks 20
The Moment: It’s not often the NRL’s solid journeymen get singled out for praise but Cowboys’ winger Ashley Graham’s all-round game against the Sharks demands the spotlight. Without Graham it is probable Cronulla would have unseated the home side and ended their pursuit of a valuable spot in the top four. His miraculous diving grounding for a try in the 61st minute was as spectacular as it was crucial, seizing back the lead with a 16-14 scoreline. But although spectators may not have picked it at the time, Graham all but won the game for the Cowboys 40 minutes earlier with his desperate tackle to stop Sharks’ fullback Isaac Gordon bagging his second try of the night. Gordon supported Colin Best’s long break in the 23rd minute, appearing certain to score before Graham collared him. The Cowboy manoeuvred his body underneath Gordon, blocking his grounding, with the impact jolting the ball loose. Had Gordon scored the Sharks would have assumed a decisive 14-nil lead. It was a momentum killer.
Panthers 19 def. Raiders 18
The Moment: A couple of incidents showed how luck has deserted the Raiders in 2011. First winger Reece Robinson somehow managed to turn a safely defused bomb into a Panthers try for Brad Tighe and a 12-all scoreline in the 42nd minute. Second, David Simmons’ try which saw the Panthers grab an 18-12 lead in the 51st minute had a serious element of doubt about it. Look closely and you’ll notice debutant Blake Austin’s inside pass for Lachlan Coote appears to be thrown and float forward before being knocked down by Raiders’ captain Alan Tongue. If the retiring veteran had not made contact we’re pretty sure the enormity of the forward pass would have been plain to see and the play would have been called up. Bad luck Tonguey; you deserved a better home-ground send-off.
Dragons 26 def. Warriors 22
The Moment: Well, well, well – they may not be one-trick ponies after all. Talk about the Dragons’ attack in 2011 has centred on their ability to execute left-side sweeps. But it was a rare right-side play that got them out of bother at WIN Stadium. And it was a gem. Leading 18-16 in the 57th minute interchange Trent Merrin hit the ball up down the left edge. He was stopped in his tracks 38 metres out but managed to pop a back-handed offload to Nathan Fien who set in motion a chain of passing that culminated in Jason Nightingale crashing over in the right corner. Fien found Dean Young, who passed to Ben Hornby, who hit Jamie Soward around the back of decoy Beau Scott, who found Gasnier who put Nightingale into space 25 metres out. The winger still had some work to do, withstanding a crunching challenge from Warriors’ opposite Bill Tupou to just manage to keep his right foot in the field of play as he was grounding the footy. The try was just the Dragons’ sixth down the right sideline all year – compared to a whopping 23 down Brett Morris’ left wing. If they stay deep and keep their attack straight, as they did here, Nightingale will cross for plenty more over the coming weeks.
Broncos 22 def. Rabbitohs 10
The Moment: If you want an example of the perfect decoy play look no further than Ben Te’o’s brilliant timing and straight run that provided sufficient smokescreen for Sam Thaiday to score a determined Broncos try. With four minutes left before oranges Darren Lockyer hit the right side, running to the line five metres out from goal and pumping Thaiday with a flat pass. As Thaiday caught the ball Te’o ran past him on his outside, puncturing the gap between defenders Luke Burgess and Chris McQueen. It was an exquisite line – at no time did Te’o make contact with either defender. It still bamboozled Burgess though; he turned to ref Jared Maxwell and gesticulated with his arms, pleading for an obstruction ruling. Trouble was the play was still in motion, with Thaiday out-muscling McQueen and Greg Inglis to crash over in the corner for a decisive 18-10 lead. No doubt coach John Lang would have impressed upon Burgess the need to play the moment and not the emotion in future.
Wests Tigers 39 def. Titans 10
The Moment: You just knew the Titans were in for a torrid evening when it took all of three minutes for Benji Marshall to leave his stamp with a wonderful example of awareness. Titans’ right winger David Mead felled Lote Tuqiri, then became entangled with the Tiger as he rose to play the ball 30 metres out from his try line and just a couple of metres in from touch. Jogging in to dummy-half Marshall noted Mead’s involvement and glanced a slight chance down the left corridor. He scooped up the Steeden and dashed down the touchline, escaping the clutches of marker Clinton Toopi before drawing Titans’ fullback Jordan Rankin and offloading for team-mate Matt Utai to score.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.