EIGHT GAMES, EIGHT MOMENTS: The Wolfman is back; Idris makes his mark; two golden-point thrillers; and the Roosters leave it late.
Dragons 15 def. Knights 14
The Moment: Jamie Soward’s extra-time field goal may have clinched the competition points for the Red V but other snapshots revealed more about each team’s chances in 2012. For starters… who needs Darius Boyd? Dragons’ fans were dancing in joy when Brett Morris squeezed his way over in the left corner for the first try of the season in the ninth minute. Their joy was magnified by the fact the crisp backline movement didn’t involve fullback successor Kyle Stanley injecting himself. Too often oppositions were able to easily read Boyd’s plays at the back last year – could his departure actually turn out to be a silver lining for the Dragons’ attack in 2012? As for the Knights, Jarrod Mullen’s vision to duck into dummy-half and take on the disorganised Dragons’ marker defence, resulting in a 35-metre solo try in the 33rd minute, showed the expansive threat he and fellow playmakers Kurt Gidley and Boyd will deliver, while Timana Tahu’s shimmy-shimmy-pass to set up James McManus’ 60th-minute four-pointer showed there’s life in his old legs yet.
Broncos 18 def. Eels 6
The Moment: Some nervous moments for Broncos fans who had to wait almost three-quarters of the match for their charges to gain breathing space over the committed Eels. One of the few bright spots on a miserable night was halfback Peter Wallace stepping up to the plate and shouldering the increased playmaking workload, sans Darren Lockyer. Wallace’s instinctive kick for himself from 10 metres out on the last tackle in the 59th minute gave the Broncos the lead for the first time; the importance of the play was evident when Wallace slammed the ball into the sodden turf in a mixture of triumph and overwhelming relief. Sure he got a little luck, with the ball rebounding off Eels hooker Matt Keating’s leg, but Wallace’s terrier-like chase shows he’s well and truly switched on early. Good signs.
Storm 24 def. Raiders 19
The Moment: A forward-pass ruling on Josh McCrone’s floater for Blake Ferguson in the 37th minute drew howls from the Raiders camp in post-match discussions but Billy Slater’s athleticism to steal his side the two competitions points was this game’s talent talking point. The diminutive (178cm) fullback timed his leap for Cooper Cronk’s pinpoint 76th-minute kick into the in-goal to perfection, soaring above opposite Josh Dugan (188cm) to grab the Steeden and score. There were massive plusses on the Raiders’ ledger though, with Dugan relentless in his carting of the footy with 21 runs for 257 metres, plus a game-high nine tackle-breaks. And we can’t help thinking the home team was harshly done by when Cooper Cronk was awarded the Storm’s second try, which scooted the visitors out to a 12-nil lead after just eight minutes. Cronk clearly manhandled Raiders’ captain Terry Campese chasing his grubber kick, with replays showing the Storm halfback grabbing Campese around his torso in a tackling motion. There were penalties awarded in other games for players tackling opponents without the ball, so why not here? Over to you, Mr Harrigan.
Bulldogs 22 def. Panthers 14
The Moment: Gone in a ‘flash’… Michael Gordon… broken leg… 25 minutes into what now looks like being a long, long season for the Panthers without their attacking spearhead. And it appeared so innocuous: a mere grimace from the flyer, felled by Greg Eastwood 10 metres out from the Bulldogs’ line. Gordon didn’t even need the dreaded Medicab; he hobbled off himself (which at the time seemed encouraging). Still, they battled through without him in 15 games last season so at least the Panthers have some idea of the tough job ahead. Meanwhile, promising signs from Bulldogs back-rower Frank Pritchard who has developed a reputation for drifting in and out of games over the past few seasons. That’s something that won’t be tolerated on Des Hasler’s watch. Hasler transformed Tony Williams from a lackadaisical contributor into a fiercely focused warrior at Manly and Pritchard is a key candidate for similar mentoring at the ’Dogs. Pritchard managed just four try assists in 2011 – he’s already on the tally sheet in 2012 after his brilliant delayed feed to Josh Morris who crossed for the blue-and-whites’ third try in the 72nd minute. Amazingly it was the first time the Bulldogs led all evening. The pity is Pritchard won’t get to add to his tally against the Dragons this week after his late-shot on David Simmons.
Titans 18 def. Cowboys 0
The Moment: Jamal Idris’ shift to the left side of the field for the Titans paid immediate dividends as the wooden spoon holders sprung the most surprising upset of Round 1. Idris scored twice as the Titans became the first side to ensure the Cowboys didn’t trouble the Dairy Farmers Stadium scoreboard attendant in nine long years. While his first try in the 5th minute had an element of luck about it, chasing a Scott Prince kick into the opposition in-goal, his second showed why smart judges have pencilled in Idris as the buy of 2012. With the Titans leading 12-nil with seven minutes remaining the dreadlocked colossus charged onto a Matt Srama pop pass from dummy-half, leaving opposition defenders Glenn Hall and James Tamou no chance of stopping his momentum from three metres out. Talk about tenacious ‘D’ – and this from a Titans side that leaked the most points in 2012! It’s early days yet… but a slap on the back, John Cartwright.
Sea Eagles 26 def. Warriors 20
The Moment: David Williams showed centimetre-perfect judgment twice in the opening 11 minutes of this 2011 grand final rematch to help vault the premiers to a commanding lead. First he resisted opposite number Manu Vatuvei to score with eight minutes gone, in the process planting the pill perilously close to the right corner post, before orchestrating an incredible try that’s already been edited into the season’s highlights reels. The ‘Wolfman’ burst onto a Jamie Lyon pass 35 metres out from the Warriors’ try line and high-tailed it down the right edge. Just when it looked like Vatuvei had him covered and was about to hurl him into touch the Manly flanker managed to put ball to boot with a deft kick from nine metres out. The Steeden travelled just six metres forward and perhaps as many metres infield – and into the waiting arms of halfback Daly Cherry-Evans to score. It would have been a huge thrill for Williams, who missed last year’s decider after breaking a vertebra in his neck in Round 25. Certainly it was for all fans who witnessed this extraordinary advertisement for attacking rugby league at Eden Park.
Wests Tigers 17 def. Sharks 16
The Moment: The burning question now is how will the Tigers reshuffle their ranks to plug the loss of fullback James Tedesco after the exciting youngster suffered a likely season-ending knee injury 30 minutes into his NRL debut? In a truly heartbreaking rugby league moment the 19-year-old crumpled to the ground without a hand laid on him after attempting a jinking step at the defensive line. Cruel, cruel, cruel. Meanwhile the Gods were kinder to Wests Tigers winger Beau Ryan: he crossed for his side’s opening four-pointer with barely 90 seconds gone before dragging them back on level terms with only four minutes remaining. On the end of a sweep of cross-field passes, Ryan dribbled a kick ahead from 15 metres out, beating the frantic cover of Todd Carney to score the most important try of the afternoon and send the Leichhardt faithful into frenzy. Yeah, yeah, Benji’s wobbly field-goal got them home: but we’re going to make ‘Moments’ a field-goal-free zone in 2012 – unless they are knock-’em-down-dead spectacular.
Roosters 24 def. Rabbitohs 20
The Moment: Leading 20-18 with 35 seconds remaining and with their opponents pinned deep in their half, the Rabbitohs pushed up with what appeared to be a faultless, straight line in defence. So how did things unravel so dramatically? It all boiled down to a poor defensive read… and a whole lot of luck. Confronted by a wall of red and green, Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce drifted laterally to the right, still 65 metres from the try line. On the right edge he was met by Dave Taylor, Dylan Farrell and Greg Inglis, with left winger Matt King hanging back a few metres to counter any kick through. This is where Pearce managed to somehow create an overlap: as he motioned for support Boyd Cordner to make an inside run, Dave Taylor shoved Pearce sideways so he’d get a clean shot on Cordner. But Pearce held onto the ball and as he was targeted by Inglis, popped a pass to Mitchell Aubusson on his outside. The break was on. It’s history now that Anthony Minichiello latched onto a Cordner kick to secure the Roosters their miracle win. Incredible stuff.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.