Barba magic, Eels revival and two cliffhangers
EIGHT GAMES, EIGHT MOMENTS: Barba's magic counter-attack, a costly Penrith penalty, Souths get out of jail and Parra's stunning turnaround.
Storm 34 def. Knights 22
The Moment: Trailing 12-6 at the halftime break would have been a good result for the Knights here. Sigh – woulda… shoulda… coulda. Sometimes a player’s brain snap will gift the opposition possession unnecessarily, while other times too much caution can yield the same negative result. The latter happened to Knights five-eighth Jarrod Mullen. With little more than two minutes left on the clock in the first 40, Mullen tapped Cameron Smith’s deep kick over the dead-ball line, despite appearing to have a decent play on the Steeden and without undue pressure from chaser Cooper Cronk. Two minutes is an eternity for the Storm; they worked downfield from the line-dropout, then set up a wonderful double decoy utilising Jason Ryles close to the ruck and Billy Slater out wide. The ball shot out the back where Gareth Widdop hit Ryan Hoffman with a select pass for the try that deflated the visitors, big time. It was an especially cruel outcome given the Knights should have been awarded a penalty when deep on the attack some 60 seconds prior, with Ryan Hinchcliffe clearly walking into Neville Costigan in his attempt to “clear” the ruck and dislodging the football. (You can view that one utilising the ‘errors’ button on our Smart Replay.) A poor refs decision.
Broncos 28 def. Dragons 20
The Moment: Two weeks ago the Dragons put four tries on the Wests Tigers in the opening 40 minutes. The Broncos did the same here – aided by a diabolical 46 per cent completions rate from the Red V that gifted the home side 14 more full sets of six. But then coach Steve Price broke out the defibrillator in the dressing sheds and St George Illawarra pulsed back to life in the second 40 with three electric tries to have the game in the balance at 24-16 with 18 minutes remaining. It took an awkward play from Gerard Beale, linked to the Dragons from next season, to give the Broncos breathing space: the right winger looked to chip kick over the head of opposite Daniel Vidot but instead the ball skewed to the right of Vidot at only torso height. Beale sprinted through and attempted to regather but missed, instead half-tripping over the ball which dribbled into the in-goal for Matt Gillett to score the match-winner. It wasn’t pretty, but it turned out beautiful.
Sharks 15 def. Panthers 14
The Moment: Todd Carney’s 10th career field-goal and second in 2012 proved the match-winner in the 72nd minute but it was the continuing skill and aggression shown by the back row combination of Jeremy Smith and Jason Bukuya that truly warmed the hearts of Shark fans. That, and the Shire side’s new-found glue-like mitts – although outclassed in attack, conceding seven line-breaks, Cronulla completed their sets at a whopping 87 per cent. Things have certainly turned around since their Round 2 debacle against the Knights, when they butchered seven legitimate scoring attempts. Here they took what was on offer each time – an example was Smith’s lovely short ball for Bukuya who took the pill at pace to open their account in the sixth minute. Arguably the turning point came when Penrith captain Luke Lewis, celebrating his 200th game, was penalised for holding down opposition skipper Paul Gallen with 10 minutes left on the clock. The gift two points saw the sides draw level, drafting the script for Carney’s match-winner from 40 metres. Some anniversary present. The defeat leaves the Panthers with a 0-3 home record. ‘Gus’ Gould says connecting with the local fan base is Penrith’s priority in 2012 – he won’t be a happy man this week.
Eels 29 def. Sea Eagles 20
The Moment: Wow – in their first four games in 2012 Parramatta made a combined seven line-breaks. In taking down the premiers they made eight! Goes to show how pride can be the ultimate motivator… well, that and basically playing for your career. A bunch of Eels looked totally different players to the ones who spluttered their way through the opening month of the NRL – and none more than five-eighth Ben Roberts. While all the post-match hype focused on Jarryd Hayne, it was former New Zealand international Roberts who provided two crucial try assists – the second for Hayne to score and reclaim the lead with 19 minutes to play. Roberts embarrassed the Sea Eagles with a searching 35-metre dummy-half run down the left edge before linking with his fullback who crossed under the posts unopposed. And it was Roberts’ intelligent cross-field kick that targeted 180cm-tall opposite number Kieran Foran for Hayne to open the Eels’ scoring in the sixth minute. But let’s not get too excited about the Eels’ win. Yes it was gutsy and the shot in the arm the besieged club needed. But for the most part their opponents stank. Looks like their hectic early season travel is taking its toll.
Roosters 26 def. Warriors 8
The Moment: Brian McClennan can forget about the Warriors becoming a consistent top-four side if they keep tossing up mediocre displays like this one. Last year’s premiership runners-up missed 27 tackles in the first 40 minutes to trail the tricolours 16-4 heading to oranges. And as NRL.com’s Stats Insider exclusively revealed two weeks ago, letting your opposition become the first team to pile on back-to-back tries in a game leaves you just a 20 per cent chance of pulling off a comeback victory. Those odds held true here, courtesy of some flashy right-side Roosters attack and a dab of brilliance from unlikely playmakers Brad Takairangi and Anthony Mitchell in the 29th minute. The pair combined like Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater, with Takairangi grubbering into the in-goal and Mitchell chasing and planting the Steeden inside the dead-ball line with just blades of grass to spare to score his first try in his 13th game for the Bondi club.
Bulldogs 30 def. Titans 20
The Moment: The Titans are leading 14-12 after 35 minutes. When Ben Barba fields a Scott Prince long grubber into the Bulldogs’ in-goal. Shrugs off Titans winger Dominique Peyroux. Scoots upfield. Stands up opposition fullback William Zillman on the Bulldogs’ 40-metre line. Offloads to support Josh Morris near halfway. The visitors travel 105 metres in the twinkling of an eye and suddenly they’re leading 18-14 in a game when they’ve always been on the back foot. As moments go, you won’t see any better. Meanwhile Luke Bailey can be excused for thinking he killed a black cat while walking under a ladder on the way to Skilled Park, with two massive slices of bad luck contributing to the Titans’ fourth consecutive loss. First a desperation try save on Josh Reynolds in the 32nd minute unraveled when Bailey was unable to complete his tackle, the Bulldogs five-eighth scampering free of his clutches to score and bridge their early deficit to just two points; then, trailing by 10 points with seven minutes remaining, ‘Bull’ charged onto a Luke O’Dwyer grubber and looked certain to score before man-of-the-moment Barba denied him with a super-strength wrapping tackle.
Rabbitohs 17 def. Wests Tigers 16
The Moment: Newsflash Tim Sheens: one team has to concede more penalties than any other in the NRL, and it’s always the side with the poorest discipline. Sheens lamented his team’s 5-9 penalty count against the Rabbitohs but the tally was pretty even at 3-4 at the 46th minute – and the Tigers conceded three of those penalties inside 51 seconds just minutes into the game! Thereafter the black and whites (as they were adorned this Heritage Round) pushed their luck trying to avert a comeback from the nearly down-and-out Bunnies. They conceded six penalties in the second 40 – including three in the final six minutes. Penalties at crucial moments – like Lote Tuqiri’s strip of Dave Taylor that gifted the Rabbitohs a piggyback downfield and culminated in Taylor grubbering through for Andrew Everingham to score the equaliser in the 78th minute – were their downfall. Of major concern to the Concord camp is that the Tigers’ goal-line defence was found wanting yet again – they simply had no answer to livewire Rabbitohs hooker Issac Luke, who punished them with two tries from dummy-half. It was hardly a surprise that Luke would run from the ruck – he leads the way in the NRL with 60 dummy-half rushes. Yet he was allowed to get away with a whopping 12 throughout the afternoon.
Cowboys 22 def. Raiders 6
The Moment: No prize for guessing what Raiders coach David Furner has on the agenda at training this week: plenty of tackling practice and defensive structure drills – especially for their left-edge tacklers. The Cowboys certainly did their homework in the lead-up to this clash; prior to the game stats showed the Raiders had conceded seven tries down their left edge. The visitors clinically exposed and exploited that weakness, crossing for four tries down the corridor. Three were beautifully constructed right-side sweeps, with their opener to Brent Tate their crispest and best. Halfback Ray Thompson shifted wide to captain Johnathan Thurston, who threw a magical cutout pass in front of decoy Matthew Bowen that hit centre Brent Tate at pace, with the former Kangaroo having too much speed for opposite number Jarrod Croker. The 10th-minute play opened the scoring and set the tone for the night. The Raiders have now conceded 11 tries on their left compared to just two on their right. Next Sunday can’t come quick enough for Round 6 opponents the Warriors.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.