The rookie play of the year for 2012?
EIGHT GAMES, EIGHT MOMENTS: Bowen and Thurston sink the Broncos, Jennings gets his groove back, and a play-of-the-year contender from a rookie Raider.
Sea Eagles 22 def. Wests Tigers 18
The Moment: Daly Cherry-Evans’ 80-metre solo try without a Tigers defender laying a finger on him quickly put paid to any thoughts the No.7 may have been a contender for the dreaded ‘second-year syndrome’. With the Sea Eagles leading 10-8 in the 48th minute, the 23-year-old took control at first-receiver down the blind right side on tackle two, dummying to get past Chris Lawrence and Matt Utai before selling another masterpiece to replacement Wests Tigers fullback Tom Humble 45 metres out and sprinting to score beside the goal posts. It was the first of two occasions Humble failed to get a hand on a tryscorer as the last line of defence; he was also glaringly wrong-footed when Kieran Foran turned the ball inside to Tony Williams in the 59th minute, with ‘T-Rex’ shrugging off Tigers’ skipper Robbie Farah from 10 metres out and Humble arriving after the (sea) bird had flown.
Cowboys 28 def. Broncos 26
The Moment: The Broncos lost their grip on this game when they made the mistake of trying to match the frantic pace of their opposition. Two sides in a frenzy? Something had to give – and it did. Once they’d clawed back their 16-8 halftime deficit to lead 20-16 the Broncos needed to play patient football and take some of the heat out of the breakneck tempo. Sure Matt Bowen’s second try in the final minute was the killer, but his first try at the 55-minute mark was the moment the game edged away from the home side – and unfortunately they can lay some blame on the shoulders of Sam Thaiday. It was the captain who charged off his line with the Cowboys desperate for options 40 metres out on the last tackle. Johnathan Thurston grasped the ball at first receiver, shaped to kick but quick-as-a-flash adjusted the play when he noticed Thaiday tearing at him. Thurston simply stepped Thaiday and exploited the huge gap that the now-staggered defensive line presented, probing between Peter Wallace and a flat-footed Corey Parker to link with… wouldn’t you know it… fullback Bowen. Try time. Also, we doubt Bowen’s soft match-winner would have been scored had Darren Lockyer been on the field: from five-eighth he would have been barking instructions to be wary of a Bowen pick-up-and-go at the base of the scrum. You live and learn.
Raiders 24 def. Titans 12
The Moment: Raider Jack Wighton grabbed an early nomination for play of the year by a rookie with his spectacular leap and bat-back of a Terry Campese cross-field bomb for Jarrod Croker to score Canberra’s second try in the 20th minute. Brought into the side for the injured Reece Robinson, the 19-year-old became the seventh debutant in 2012 through just 11 games played. And he showed he won’t be content to simply warm the seat for his more experienced team-mate. Wighton soared high to beat Titan David Mead to the ball, swatting it infield where Croker pounced for a 10-nil lead before Campese added the extras. Wighton punched out 101 metres on debut, with a line-break, an offload and three tackle busts plus his try assist. A Jack of all trades?
Bulldogs 30 def. Dragons 4
The Moment: Under Wayne Bennett the Dragons lost by 20 points or more on only one occasion (41-6 v Rabbitohs, Round 26, 2009). But in just their second premiership game without the master coach, the Red V chalked up their second-biggest loss in their past 87 NRL matches. The biggest concern for new coach Steve Price was the haunting return of their ‘soft underbelly’ – and he’ll be hoping it was just a cameo. But give the Bulldogs their due: they were hungry and in blistering form, with centre Josh Morris back in the form that saw him represent at national and Origin levels. This was somewhat of a Groundhog Day game for Ben Hornby, who for the second week running was left eating grass after being stood up by the lightning footwork and in-and-away of an opposition centre. In their season-opener it was Newcastle’s Timana Tahu – this week it was Morris who ran around the Dragons skipper on the left edge in the 21st minute to score the second try of his first-half hat-trick. As for that ‘soft underbelly’ reference, it would be tough for any Dragons fan to argue that wasn’t the case given the way Greg Eastwood barged through four St George Illawarra players with ease to score his side’s final try in the 74th minute. Finally, two observations: last week the Bulldogs managed the fewest metres by any team (1051) and this week managed the most (1507); and last year the Dragons tallied the fewest average errors a game (just nine) and already average a whopping 14. That’s gonna keep hurting them.
Knights 18 def. Sharks 6
The Moment: There wasn’t a lot to get excited about in this scrappy encounter. The Knights took their limited chances while the Sharks were left to lament a brace of poor executions that prevented them from staking their claim. Probably the most intriguing moments were ref Tony Archer’s interpretations in the lead-up to the match-sealing try scored by Junior Sa’u in the 64th minute (stripped by the Sharks over the line, then grounded by Sa’u a nanosecond later) and Ben Pomeroy’s try in the dying stages of the game, when Richie Fa’aoso was deemed to have kicked the ball out of Shark Nathan Gardner’s hands while he was held in the in-goal. But skill-wise, credit to Wes Naiqama for his lightning-fast sweep of the ball to winger Akila Uate, cleaning up a Chris Houston bat-back of a Jarrod Mulled bomb. Naiqama’s fast reflexes in the seventh minute ensured the visitors would play from in front. Of course the other pivotal moment came when Knights skipper Kurt Gidley dislocated his shoulder attempting a tackle on Todd Carney just five minutes in. Cruel.
Panthers 18 def. Roosters 0
The Moment: Amazing what a little bit of confidence will do – Michael Jennings crossed for just one try in 2011 but with a double against the Roosters he now has three from just two games in 2012. Jennings’ first try in the 34th minute for a 12-nil lead oozed skill – he latched onto a difficult Danny Galea pass, catching the ball in his left hand while his body swerved to the right, then beat a swarm of Roosters defenders in a scurrying 10-metre dart to the try line. His second four-pointer in the 56th minute came when a Roosters attacking move broke down, with a stray pass from Anthony Minichiello falling angelically into his hands before Jennings sprinted 50 metres to cross untouched. Special mention to Panthers prop Sam McKendry whose barnstorming solo try in the 14th minute set the tone for the afternoon. It’s a rare feat in the modern game when a prop can take the ball at first receiver and charge 30 metres through a set defensive line, beat all-comers and score. Bravo.
Storm 24 def. Rabbitohs 10
The Moment: It was a tale of two groundings that proved the difference at AAMI Park. On the negative side of the ledger, Fetuli Talanoa narrowly failed a miracle planting in the left corner that would have thrust the visitors into the lead shortly after halftime. Talanoa may have earned the Rabbitohs a deserving advantage had it not been for Gareth Widdop’s well-timed, last-ditch shove. Then Billy Slater showed millimetre-perfect judgment to cross in the left corner in the 54th minute after picking up the dregs of a speculative Cooper Cronk pass, and it was the Storm who seized the crucial first points in the second stanza.
Warriors 36 def. Eels 20
The Moment: It took Jarryd Hayne all of eight minutes to provide his first try assist in 2012 – which made his heartbreaking early exit with a recurrence of his knee cartilage injury (16th minute) all the more frustrating for the player, his team-mates and the fans. Hayne’s busy involvement helped the Eels to a dominant 8-nil lead – before the star crumpled to the turf and the Medi-cab was called for. Already without captain Nathan Hindmarsh (virus), the Eels simply couldn’t afford to lose another prominent face; that they managed to hold their own with the Warriors speaks volumes for their commitment. In the end however they had no answer to some of the visitors’ stunning plays. James Maloney’s try in the 62nd minute broke their backs: pestered by the Eels and leading just 18-14, the Warriors did what they do best – threw the ball from sideline to sideline with hot-potato passes. After a helter-skelter passage the ball found fullback Kevin Locke 20 metres out; stumbling off balance, crawling for moments and looking like he was running barefoot on an ice skating rink, Locke managed to evade the clutches of a host of Eels defenders then flicked the ball inside to Feleti Mateo. The back-rower held the ball up in two hands, mesmerising the defence, then lofted a well-weighted pass that found Maloney on the burst for a show-reel four-pointer.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.