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EIGHT GAMES, EIGHT MOMENTS: Slater sets a new record, Taylor shows his full range of skills and the Sharks secure the two points from the Sea Eagles.

Dragons 36 def. Wests Tigers 12

The Moment: This devastating sustained attacking display almost managed to wipe off the horrific 26 negative points differential the Red V suffered at the hands of the Bulldogs last week – and it may well prove crucial when teams jostle for positions in the top eight come September. Most pleasing was the fact the Dragons ‘unearthed’ an exciting fullback prospect in Brett Morris. From the outside it looked like a bold move from coach Steve Price – but Test winger Morris has actually been playing out of position for years after completing his junior footy in the No.1 jersey. (Price coached Morris in the No.1 for Jersey Flegg premiership success in 2005.) ‘B-Moz’ made the most of his opportunities against the Tigers, so much so that he may well end up filling the role for the remainder of the season. And what a night to showcase his wares: up against fullback recruit Tim Moltzen who deserted the Dragons in the off-season! Morris adapted to the positional switch from the get-go, his try in the 14th minute a copybook fullback support raid. Morris took a simple inside ball from skipper Ben Hornby 20 metres out on tackle two, sliced between feeble grabs from Liam Fulton and Aaron Woods, and steamed onwards. Tim Moltzen pulled off what looked like a try save, then Robbie Farah came in to lend assistance before Morris managed to grapple his arms free and pop a wonderful late offload to Dan Hunt, who crashed over to give the Dragons a 12-nil lead. Full credit to coach Steve Price too for targeting the Tigers’ goal posts with sustained pressure: four tries by the sticks in the first 40 was the perfect result after the late withdrawals of centres Beau Scott and Matt Cooper.

Morris cuts through the Tigers to setup the Saints try

Broncos 24 def. Knights 10

The Moment: It didn’t take the Broncos long to expose the long road that lies ahead for the Knights without Kurt Gidley. Test centre Justin Hodges got the better of makeshift Novocastrian pivot Matt Hilder (41 tackles, game-high six misses) with a menacing diagonal run, getting on the outside of his man, causing indecision in the mind of left centre Timana Tahu, then cutting loose with his huge right-foot sidestep. From there Hodges enjoyed an unimpeded 40-metre dash to the try line. We have to give Corey Norman a rap here – it was the No.6’s support play, offering Hodges the option of a runner on the inside, which added to the Newcastle defenders’ confusion and gifted Hodges his trademark play. Hodges’ 29th-minute try catapulted the visitors to a comfortable 12-4 lead at halftime. The Knights’ record without Gidley over the past five seasons now stands at 12 losses from 17 games. We fear the percentage will only get bigger over the weeks ahead.

The Knights get opened up by the slick skills of Hodges

Storm 30 def. Titans 6

The Moment: Billy Slater’s second touchdown in the 72nd minute elevated the Storm dynamo to the top of the list for most tries by a fullback in history (130, usurping retired Rabbitoh Rhys Wesser) – and boy was it up there with his best! Slater hunted down a Cooper Cronk cross-field punt towards the Titans’ goal posts, shouldering past Beau Champion to snatch the ball on the full. With barely two metres’ space to work in, Slater cushioned the impact of the take with his left leg, before allowing it to buckle as he fell to the turf. Replays show ‘The Kid’ managed to ground the ball centimetres short of the dead-ball line before his right arm made contact out of bounds. No child’s play, for sure. Slater’s first four-pointer seven minutes prior, after interplay from Cronk and skipper Cameron Smith, was as good a display of speed and body swerve as you’ll ever see: he motored onto the football through the centre of the ruck, then arced around Titans fullback William Zillman to cross untouched. The guy is pretty much impossible to coach, or defend, against.

Slater sets a new record with a try of the year contender

Cowboys 42 def. Eels 6

The Moment: Oh dear. Where do we start? Five tries and seven unanswered line-breaks in the 20 minutes before halftime for a 26-nil scoreline told the nightmarish story in Townsville. While it’s hard to find any positives in the Eels’ play (42 missed tackles, just one team offload and 13 fewer sets of six than their opponents), the Cowboys confirmed their first-round humiliation at the hands of the Titans was a mere aberration. Rookie Jason Taumalolo was their wrecking ball, repeatedly terrorising the Eels down the right edge. The still-18-year-old scored a wonderful try in the 31st minute, showing great footwork at the line for a 110-kilogram ‘unit’, then barely 150 seconds later cut the Eels to shreds again before showing great composure to feign an inside ball to Ray Thompson and send  it to unmarked winger Ashley Graham instead. Can you imagine the damage the tandem pairing of Taumalolo and Tariq Sims will wreak when Sims returns?   

Jason Taumalolo destroys the Eels on the way to the try-line

Roosters 14 def. Raiders 8

The Moment: A memorable clash for all the wrong reasons, with the Raiders losing key cogs Josh Dugan (14th minute) and Shaun Fensom (16th minute) to injury for extended periods. How much will Canberra miss the pair? Prior to this flat-spot game, Dugan was averaging 213 metres an outing for the Green Machine, while Fensom led the league for defensive workrate, averaging 53 tackles a match. Enough said. Their absence was instantly felt by the Raiders here, who nonetheless managed to stay in the hunt courtesy of a Keystone Cops-like performance by the home team. The Roosters bungled their way to a staggering 21 errors and were forced to make 58 more tackles as the down-to-14-men Raiders completed a full eight sets of six more on the afternoon. But alas, attention to detail in defence was again Canberra’s Achilles heel: after scoring the opening two tries for an 8-6 halftime lead, Jarrod Croker and Terry Campese were horribly exposed when Shaun Kenny-Dowall made a right-side rush to set up Daniel Mortimer in the 60th minute. Skipper Campese looked a little distracted by his team’s injury woes, stumbling to a poor five tackle misses throughout, after missing just two in his previous 120 minutes of play in 2012. Seriously, you know it was a disappointing game of footy when the highlight was a lowlight …     

Mortimer finishes off what Shaun Kenny-Dowall started

Bulldogs 32 def. Warriors 18

The Moment: Has there been a better head-to-head clash so far in 2012 than fullbacks Ben Barba and Kevin Locke squaring off? Barba won this bout with a try, try assist and three lightning line-breaks, but Locke showed plenty of courage and purpose – and had it not been for an apparent lack of faith in his pace from some of his team-mates, the Warriors may have banked the competition points from this absorbing encounter. Barba was breathtaking in attack and defence, and his two late try saves proved decisive to the outcome. First he arrived on the scene to scupper Locke’s bid for an equaliser in the left corner in the 60th minute, then he was on the spot to clean up Shaun Johnson’s 74th-minute grubber into the in-goal and turn defence into the game-clincher. And this is where the Warriors’ right-side players let the game slip: Kevin Locke gave chase as Barba broke away in full flight down the right sideline. Incredibly, after giving his opposite number a head start, Locke seemed to be jog-trotting alongside the Bulldog as he rounded up his opponent with a copybook ankle tackle 30 metres out from the home side’s try line. But with a host of Warriors still meandering back downfield like Brown’s cows, the Bulldogs spread the ball wide to the left, with Johnathan Wright sealing the deal unopposed. The lack of commitment was a real smack in the face to Locke, who had more than held up his side of the defensive bargain.  

Ben Barba starts this Bulldogs try from his own in-goal

Rabbitohs 40 def. Panthers 24

The Moment: Billy Slater … Ben Barba … Dave Taylor – can you pick the odd one out? That’s right, it’s a trick question: none is out of place when it comes to spectacular chase-and-groundings. Titans-bound Rabbitoh Dave Taylor is certain to be called into a specially convened meeting of the second-rowers union this week after his had-to-be-seen-to-be-believed solo try in the 13th minute at Centrebet Stadium. The ‘Coal Train’ did anything but lumber out of dummy-half when he scooped up the ball 12 metres out from the Panthers’ try line. Backing himself to the hilt on tackle four, ‘DT’ grubber-kicked diagonally through the defence towards the Penrith goal posts, beat all-comers to regather, then skillfully planted the ball inside the dead-ball line for a highlights reel four-pointer. Conceding three converted tries in better than even time was a bitter pill for the Panthers’ faithful to swallow, with the Oak boys on the nose at home with a 0-2 record through just three rounds.    

The Coal Train chips, chases and scores a spectacular solo try

Sharks 17 def. Sea Eagles 14

The Moment: Put simply, the Sharkies wanted the competition points more than the premiers, with their commitment early in the encounter providing a sufficient buffer to the Sea Eagles’ inevitable comeback. The Sharks’ focus was personified by second-rower Jason Bukuya’s commitment to somehow shrug off the tackle attempts of Tony Williams, Kieran Foran, Jason King, Brett Stewart and Dean Whare to muscle his way over in the 10th minute for the first of the home side’s three rapid-fire tries. Bukuya’s innocuous run from inside the 10 appeared to have been halted a few metres out from the Manly try line – he was actually driven backwards – before a second wind saw him power over. Of considerable concern for the visitors was Tony Williams’ dangerous throw of Sharks hooker Isaac De Gois. After the game new coach Geoff Toovey did his best Des Hasler impersonation when dismissing the severity of the incident. “It was one of those ones that went wrong – he put him in a dangerous position but he landed safely. So … yeah,” Tooves said. Or alternatively: “… look, he aimed and fired the gun at him, but the bullet missed and the other guy’s okay. It’s no big deal …”      

• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.

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