EIGHT GAMES, EIGHT MOMENTS: Hayne steals the show at Campbell's farewell, Lui sparks the Titans, Knights rejects impress and Soward bounces back to form.
Dragons 32 def. Panthers 12
The Moment: They say momentum is everything heading into the finals, but so too is confidence. Dragons’ five-eighth Jamie Soward appears to have consigned his recent iffy form and indecision to the dumpster given his snappy and involved hand in the premiers’ second win on the trot. When Soward is at his best it seems like there are at least four of him on the field; so it was against the Panthers. He was Jamie-on-the-spot to score in the 56th minute, timing a perfect support trail off second-rower Beau Scott to snare the second-rower’s clever late offload a metre out from the try line. And his flat, 10-metre left-to-right cut-out pass for Jason Nightingale to score in the 59th minute left no margin for error. He’s not exactly 100 per cent, but good signs nonetheless.
Knights 40 def. Rabbitohs 24
The Moment: The irony of this ‘Old Boys’ game, a deep-seated tradition whereby club pride is the passionate motivator, was that Newcastle owed their blistering start to two players dumped from the club’s plans for beyond this season. With seven minutes on the clock and 10 metres out, under-rated hooker Isaac De Gois, scurried out of dummy-half, shrugged off the tackle attempt of prop Shannan McPherson and burrowed through three other Rabbitohs to score his first try of 2012. Four minutes later former Test prop Antonio Kaufusi charged onto a smart Jarrod Mullen offload to crash over under the posts, and the Knights had a rampaging 12-nil lead in even time. De Gois is off to the Sharks next year, while Kaufusi is heading to the English Super League to suit up for London Harlequins. Of course the game which secured the Knights eighth place on the ladder and a Week One finals showdown with the Storm in Melbourne next week also featured the little matter of Akuila Uate crossing for four tries to equal the club tryscoring record in a single game. It was also Adam MacDougall’s last game at home – ‘Mad Dog’ certainly showed his age (36) when he ‘toe-poked’ the conversion of Uate’s final try for the night! Who does that?
Wests Tigers 30 def. Sharks 22
The Moment: Robert Lui showed how he’s added another valuable dynamic to the Tigers’ attack when busting loose from inside his half midway through the first stanza to instigate the Tigers’ NRL-high 46th try down the right side of the field. With great strength and evasive skill Lui can play like a third centre, as he did here to wrong-foot the Sharks’ outside defenders and put centre Blake Ayshford into space. From there it was a simple matter of drawing Sharks’ fullback Nathan Stapleton and gifting Tim Moltzen free passage to the line for a 14-6 lead. (Dragons Matt Cooper, Ben Hornby and Brett Morris beware!) Elsewhere in this absorbing, see-sawing battle we saw some pretty average sportsmanship from Tiger Ben Murdoch-Masila and trainer John Skandalis. You’d think that when an opposition player is attempting a sideline conversion that he has the “right of way” – not according to this duo who, rather than break from their warm-up, had the audacity to jog in front of Sharks’ winger John Williams as he was moving in to boot the Steeden! What was wrong with trotting down the touchline in the opposite direction?
Eels 32 def. Titans 12
The Moment: Poor old Preston Campbell. He deserved better. In his final NRL game the wily No.7 did everything in his power to help the Titans ward off their first wooden spoon. ‘Presto’ was at the heart of a ‘sliding doors’ moment that, had fortune been wearing a Titans’ jersey, would have kept the home team on an even keel with the Eels. Responding the Parramatta’s early onslaught for a 6-nil lead, Campbell took control in the 11th minute. He dribbled a kick through the Eels’ defence down the right fringe from 10 metres out and won the race for the football – but realising he was about to become Titans meat in an Eels sandwich he instinctively flung the ball wide for support Bodene Thompson. Unfortunately five-eighth William Zillman did too good a job of trailing through in support, the ball ricocheting off his knee and into the Eels’ in-goal where Jarryd Hayne scooped it up. Groan – Jarryd Hayne! The Eels’ No.6 pinned back his ears and ran 103 metres to cross in the left corner for a 12-point turnaround that as good as delivered the wooden spoon to the NRL’s youngest franchise with an emphatic whack. Thanks for the memories though Presto…
Warriors 18 def. Cowboys 6
The Moment: Warriors’ five-eighth James Maloney seized the moment in this battle for sixth place on the NRL ladder, setting up a decisive try for UK-bound Lance Hohaia with a sneaky break in the 26th minute. With the Cowboys clawing level at 6-all courtesy of a Kalifa Faifai Loa try off a Johnathan Thurston assist, Maloney returned fire. He hoodwinked Cowboys Aaron Payne and Gavin Cooper, slicing between the duo 40 metres out from the Cowboys’ try line before delivering a perfect, angled inside pass to Simon Mannering when confronted by Matt Bowen in cover. The Warriors’ captain fed to Hohaia from 10 metres out and the home side had grafted a significant advantage. Time will tell whether the outcome proves crucial to the longevity of both sides beyond Week One of the finals.
Bulldogs 36 def Raiders 22
The Moment: With 58 points in total there wasn’t a great deal of defensive application on show at ANZ Stadium. Attack was the order of the day – and it was the Bulldogs who dazzled brightest, their diminutive fullback Ben Barba hauling in Rabbitoh Nathan Merritt with a four-try haul to announce himself co-winner of top tryscoring honours for 2011 with a massive 23. But which try to highlight? His mesmerising 40-metre solo dash down the left edge for an 8-6 lead in the 32nd minute? His skilful grounding of a Kris Keating grubber for an 18-14 lead with 53 on the clock? His 35-metre support sprint for his third try just two minutes later? We’ll opt for his final four-pointer, which provided the ’Dogs a vital eight-point buffer with just four minutes remaining in captain Andrew Ryan’s final NRL game. Centre Jamal Idris made a bust down the right sideline before throwing a missile-like last-ditch pass infield that Barba plucked joyously from way above his head. It was a catch that any Australian slips fielder would have been proud of.
Broncos 18 def. Sea Eagles 10
The Moment: With fullback Josh Hoffman in doubt for the finals series with knee ligament damage sustained in the first half of this intense clash, the last thing Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin needed was any ill-discipline that might result in one of his key personnel fronting the judiciary. Griffin’s worst fears were realised when, with the game in the bag with Brisbane leading 18-10 and 12 minutes remaining, Broncos’ enforcer Sam Thaiday employed a little too much force, placing Manly prop Brent Kite in a dangerous position via a lifting tackle. Thaiday’s place in the Broncos’ side to take on the Warriors on Saturday night hangs in the balance.
Roosters 40 def. Storm 8
The Moment: If Storm coach Craig Bellamy had his time over again would he have opted to rest all his superstars rather than just Billy Slater and Cameron Smith? That was the $64,000 question after linchpin five-eighth Gareth Widdop was assisted from the field after injuring his ankle in the 50th minute, placing his finals campaign in doubt. To make matters worse, fellow Stormers Maurice Blair and Jaiman Lowe had already succumbed to injuries in the first half. For the record, the Roosters ended 2011 on a high, recording a fourth straight victory largely on the back of a BJ Leilua hat-trick of tries. Leilua’s third featured arguably the most miraculous grounding seen this season – and there have been plenty.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.