EIGHT GAMES, EIGHT MOMENTS: Ball-playing Broncos, Knights do it Bennett's way, Slater does it all and Weyman steals the show.
Broncos 20 def. Rabbitohs 12
The Moment: Josh Hoffman showed why he’ll be a thorn in the side of Kevin Locke in the battle for the Kiwi No.1 jersey for the Anzac Test across the ditch on April 20, with a powerhouse running and playmaking display against the Rabbitohs that resurrected the Broncos in Perth. Hoffman had the opposition on constant alert, busting a game-high nine tackles, adding two line-breaks and running 206 metres. And it was his try in the 52nd minute that turned the evening: with Brisbane trailing 12-4 in the 52nd minute Hoffman benefited from lovely lead-up play from Petero Civoniceva, Ben Hunt and Peter Wallace before side-stepping last line of defence Greg Inglis to score. The play travelled 40 metres, with Civoniceva popping a belated offload to Hunt, who beat three defenders with a lovely dummy-and-run before passing to Wallace who, despite the attentions of tackler Chris McQueen, managed an under-arm hand-off to Hoffman 20 metres out from the South Sydney goal. Hoffman had plenty left to do but his jolting sidestep left Inglis clutching at air. Further proof 2012 is developing into the Year of the Fullback.
Panthers 39 def. Eels 6
The Moment: It’s not as if Parramatta can’t control the footy – they completed their 33 sets with the Steeden at a very good 82 per cent – they just don’t know what to do with it when they’ve got it. The Panthers on the other hand appear blessed with options and variety, running in nine line-breaks against their beleaguered opponents who managed just two. The Eels’ players will still have the chorus of boos that resonated throughout their 300th appearance at Parramatta Stadium ringing in their ears throughout the week – but we’ll do them a favour and concentrate on the cheers rather than the jeers from this match. Panthers centre Michael Jennings was devastating, crossing for his fourth try of the year and setting up two others, but Luke Walsh stole the show with his looping spiral cutout pass that kick-started the Panthers’ scoring in the second half. Up 23-blot, Walsh fired a 20-metre torpedo from left to right – difficult to do with precision on the run – which found interchange back-rower Ryan Simpkins who showed good hands to glue-stick the ball low down and deliver the final pass for Brad Tighe to cross unopposed. They may have been dominant here but the Panthers will feel a little twitchy about returning home to Centrebet Stadium for their clash with the giant-killer Sharks on Saturday: the Mountain Men boast a 0-2 record at home, and a 2-0 record on the road. Go figure. And that loose change that rained down on the playing surface? Let’s just say the Eels fans weren’t tipping the players for their excellent service...
Warriors 26 def. Titans 6
The Moment: Round and round and round he goes, where he stops... is over the try line. Still, we reckon the Titans were stiffed when Shaun Johnson scored his whirling-dervish four-pointer out of dummy-half on the stroke of halftime, building on Manu Vatuvei’s 68-metre tear-away break. Anywhere else on the field you’re not permitted to use a team-mate as a shepherd; should you run behind a player in front of you and then dart back the other way, nine times out of 10 the refs will ping you for it. But not at the play-the-ball, apparently – even after the dummy-half chooses to vacate the area and run to one side, before spinning and running back behind a ‘sleeper’ team-mate. That’s exactly what Johnson did to deliver the Warriors a 14-nil lead heading to oranges, with Titans interchange Brenton Lawrence clearly impeded by Vatuvei as Johnson calculated the easiest route to the try line. We’re not saying the refs got this one wrong; rather it’s a loophole that probably needs sewing shut.
Dragons 17 def. Sea Eagles 6
The Moment: Prop Michael Weyman racked up 105 valuable metres for the Dragons against the premiers – but it was the 32 he pumped out in one go in scoring the Red V’s opening try with just three minutes on the clock that were the most important. Weyman, galloped onto a wonderful flat ball from dummy-half Mitch Rein, slicing between defenders Jason King and Matt Ballin, before breaking the tackle attempt of fullback Brett Stewart to score. Talk about a ‘Horse’ on a loose ‘Rein’! The barnstorming four-pointer ensures Weyman will yet again avoid the dreaded end-of-season ‘nudie run’ – something he’s sidestepped at St George Illawarra by the barest of margins having crossed for just one try in each of his past three seasons.
Sharks 20 def. Cowboys 14
The Moment: Even the best players come up empty-handed on occasion, as was the case with North Queensland captain Johnathan Thurston as his side was eclipsed by the determined Sharkies. Thurston failed to get a mention in dispatches for his attack and close examination of all three Cronulla tries shows ‘JT’ was among the last men standing trying to thwart the scoring plays. Not his fault though: the bounce of the ball, so often a friend of the star pivot, was a cruel companion throughout the night. In the 37th minute Thurston appeared to have Sharks halfback Jeff Robson’s grubber covered but the Steeden wobbled and glanced off the left upright, where it was dived on by Andrew Fifita. Two minutes later Thurston sprinted across in cover as Todd Carney made a dash down the right edge; as Carney offloaded inside Thurston looked to swoop on the loose ball – but in the muddle of bodies and movement it fell cleanly into Ben Pomeroy’s grasp for yet another try that saw the visitors head to the sheds with an unlikely 14-10 lead. Finally, JT was just one of a few innocent bystanders as Paul Gallen stole a march for the match-winning four-pointer with eight minutes of time remaining. Don’t expect that frequency of misfortune to befall him again any time soon.
Storm 44 def. Roosters 4
The Moment: The AAMI Park crowd was fewer than 12,000 – but you would never have guessed given the decibels generated every time Storm fullback Billy Slater got his hands on the ball. The Melbourne faithful cheered like it was NRL grand final day as Slater bagged another try double to become the first player in history to score two tries in the first four games of a season. They had to wait 33 minutes for ‘The Kid’s’ first strike, doubling around Kevin Proctor in a second-man play and latching onto Cooper Cronk’s pinpoint pass, then hitting the afterburners to score. Slater’s record-breaker was unspectacular given the moment: he simply supported a Cronk bust up the middle, taking an inside pass to run 20 metres and score unopposed. Records aside, it was the lead-up work Slater laid on for Cronk to score in the 53rd minute, for a 34-nil lead, that was typical of his genius. First he sent Dane Nielsen scooting into space 70 metres out from the Roosters’ try line, before positioning himself on Nielsen’s outside in support. The centre passed back to Slater but, glimpsing a wall of tricolours converging approaching the 30-metre line, the No.1 opted to centre-kick – off the outside of his right boot, thanks very much – with Cronk trailing through for a wonderful try. A separate line-break assist and try assist in the one passage of play. Incredible.
Knights 20 def. Bulldogs 6
The Moment: This much-need victory had Wayne Bennett’s footprints all over it: a respect for possession (81 per cent completion rate), just seven errors, a lowly 17 missed tackles and a scant five offloads. One of those offloads, from returning captain Kurt Gidley, provided the Knights with their third try and the match-winner when Alex McKinnon strolled over from close range in the 72nd minute. But it was halfback Jarrod Mullen’s dash from 10 metres out that encapsulated the urgency of the boys from Steel City. There’s no question Mullen plays his best footy when he runs to the line and he’d made his mind up here before even receiving the pill. Plus, Newcastle bodies in motion and a wonderful service from dummy-half Danny Buderus provided Mullen with the perfect platform. The No.7 seized Buderus’ pass and started pumping his legs – for a split second he may have thought about popping an inside ball to fullback Darius Boyd but noticing the Bulldogs’ line defenders’ eyes wandering back inside to Boyd, he went himself, beating Dene Halatau and Ben Barba to score his second try of 2012.
Raiders 30 def. Wests Tigers 16
The Moment: Welcome back Terry Campese! It wasn’t quite a knockout but the Raiders’ skipper was a clear points winner over his opposite Benji Marshall as the visiting Green Machine put to rest a seven-game losing sequence to the Tigers. Campo set up two tries for team-mates but it was his raid from dummy-half to score himself in the 64th minute that was the important play of the night. With the Raiders leading 18-12 Campese ducked into dummy-half after Travis Waddell was felled just a few metres out. Like all the best players he sensed opportunity and backed his foresight. The No.6 raced out from the play-the-ball, dragging marker Benji Marshall across the goal line with him for a crucial four-pointer. And Campese’s combination with halfback Josh McCrone has put a smile back on the face of Raiders’ coach David Furner – earlier Campese delivered a pinpoint pass for McCrone to run a great angle to open the Raiders’ scoring in the fifth minute. As for the Tigers? No cohesion, no discipline, no urgency and no application (48 missed tackles). And Marshall – one of the most devastating attacking players of all time – ran for an all-time low eight metres from just three runs. If the team plays like that for another fortnight it could be curtains, cubs.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.