EIGHT GAMES, EIGHT MOMENTS: St George Illawarra does a Melbourne, Hodges slices up Canberra, and an early contender for the best grounding of 2012.
Dragons 12 def Knights 4
The Moment: You know what they say: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, there was more than a touch of the Storm about the Dragons’ second try in as many minutes that put them firmly on the front foot. With Beau Scott joining the try-scorer’s list for 2012 after charging through a Zeb Taia tackle attempt from close range, the Dragons’ ‘big three’ mimicked the best in the game: hooker Mitch Rein impersonated Cameron Smith, initiating a short-side raid from dummy-half near halfway and feeding Jamie Soward who impersonated Cooper Cronk and hot-potato passed inside for fullback Brett Morris who impersonated, you guessed it, Billy Slater. Morris sliced through the narrowest of gaps 40 metres out, straightened his run to suck in opposition fullback Darius Boyd, and lofted a pass to winger Jason Nightingale who sprinted 20 metres to score. The dazzling try showed what the Red V are capable of… but unfortunately four-pointers are coming few and far between for them – Nightingale’s try ushered the final scoreline with still three-quarters of the match to be played! Further, the Dragons have managed to trouble the scorer in just two of their past six halves of football.
Broncos 30 def. Raiders 6
The Moment: NRL.com’s preview of this match included the following: “Expect Justin Hodges to test the mettle of opposite Jarrod Croker who missed the most tackles by any centre last season, averaging three a game. Croker has worked hard on his ‘reads’ in the first six rounds, cutting his misses to only two a game but if anyone can get him doubting himself it’s the powerful and wily Hodges.” Boy did that ring true: in the 53rd minute, with the Broncos leading 20-6, Hodges picked up the ball at dummy-half 30 metres from his try line, brushed aside second marker Croker, ran 35 metres and passed to Ben Hunt who sealed the scoring on the night. Hodges, who celebrated his 12th victory in 15 career games against the Raiders, contributed a game-high six tackle busts and added three offloads to now sit second in the NRL in the stats category with 20 made. Watch out Kiwis! (Additionally… was it just us or did referee Ben Cummins blow his whistle to stop play before Matt Gillett managed to wrestle the ball onto the turf in the in-goal for the Broncos’ third try in the 34th minute? Technically video ref Chris Ward shouldn’t have flashed the green light given Cummins halted play a split second before Gillett rolled over to make contact with the ground after he was initially denied. Judge for yourself on the Smart Replay.)
Storm 12 def. Bulldogs 6
The Moment: Cameron Smith must wake up after match days feeling incredibly blessed given the depth of weaponry in the Storm’s attacking arsenal. In for the slog against a gutsy Bulldogs side focused on shutting down the Storm’s strengths, Smith tweaked a favourite ‘decoy’ play to maximum effect with his side trailing 6-nil midway through the first half. It would have been uppermost in the Bulldogs’ minds that the Storm use decoys as frequently as Phil Gould says ‘wow’: six Melbourne players rank in the top 20 in the NRL for decoy runs, led by prop Jesse Bromwich and lock/interchange Ryan Hinchcliffe. So you can imagine what they were thinking when Smith took the ball at dummy-half 20 metres out with Bromwich and Hinchcliffe the two team-mates nearest to him – and Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater lurking out the back. Smith guessed their thoughts: he let Bromwich slide past as a decoy on the inside – but instead of shooting a pass out behind his second decoy runner to an energised Cronk, he delayed the play and popped a wonderful short ball that sent Hinchcliffe speeding through a gap for an equalising try. Smith is a champion, no doubt – but gee it must be nice to have so many options.
Cowboys 50 def. Roosters 12
The Moment: David Warner would be proud. While it wasn’t quite ‘a run a minute’ when the fulltime siren sounded, the early ferocity of the Cowboys’ nine-try blitz in Darwin was something to behold: 12-nil after 11 minutes courtesy of an Antonio Winterstein double; 16-nil after 16 minutes; and 22-nil after 20 minutes. Their fourth try, on the stroke of quarter-time drinks in the 28-degrees tropical heat, is already our hot favourite for ‘grounding of the year’ even just seven rounds into the competition – and it was laid on by the incredible talents of winger Kalifa Faifai Loa who was responsible for a similarly breathtaking plant last year. On debut in 2012, Faifai Loa had plenty of work to do and little room to move when skipper Johnathan Thurston fired him the ball just a few metres out from the Roosters’ try line. Anthony Minichiello and Mitchell Pearce seemed to have him covered but KFL plunged over with his torso airborne and almost at right angles to the corner post. In real time it looked a million-to-one chance… in slow-mo it looks a thing of beauty.
Titans 26 def. Sea Eagles 14
The Moment: Talk about an unfair match-up – what do you think was running through poor Dean Whare’s head when all 115 kilograms (and that was before his stint on the sideline with injury) of Jamal Idris came steaming towards him in the 28th minute? Filling in for Brett Stewart at fullback Whare had next to no chance of stopping the Titans juggernaut from scoring under the posts. Idris’ third try of the season, which seized the visitors a commanding 14-6 lead, was the brainchild of captain Scott Prince who recaptured some of his spark of old to bamboozle opposition halfback Daly Cherry-Evans. Prince showed the ball inside to decoy Bodene Thompson, sucking in Cherry-Evans and tearing a huge hole in the defensive line. All that was left was to promote the pill to Idris, who was already thundering like a rhino when he grasped possession 22 metres out. A special mention must go to the excellent solo try from rookie five-eighth Aidan Sezer, who took on the line with gusto to open the Titans’ scoring in the ninth minute.
Warriors 44 def. Rabbitohs 22
The Moment: The billowing scoreline might seem to indicate both sides struggled with their defence but that definitely wasn’t the case, with wonderful attack and great rugby league skills the order of the day. The Rabbitohs missed just 27 tackles (their season average of 26 is the fourth fewest in the NRL) as the Warriors ran amok with eight captivating tries. In terms of the run of play, Ukuma Ta’ai’s four-pointer in the 71st minute was crucial. With Andrew Everingham’s second try of the game clawing the visitors to within 10 points on the scoreboard, Warriors prop Russell Packer pulled off a stunning late offload that very nearly even caught team-mate Nathan Friend off-guard. Attracting the attention of five Rabbitohs just a metre out from the goal-line, Packer under-armed the Steeden to Friend who promoted to the unmarked Ta’i. Offloads were the key to the Warriors bouncing back to the winner’s list – they’ve been surprisingly inactive in this facet of play in 2012, ranking third last in the comp with just eight a game. Here they made 12.
Sharks 24 def. Eels 18
The Moment: Brilliant passes from Jarryd Hayne and Todd Carney to set up tries for their respective sides were the shining moments. Carney’s left-to-right, double cut-out bullet for Stewart Mills to score what proved to be the match-winner in the 48th minute was sublime. Earlier Hayne had piled on the razzle-dazzle with two first-half tries, plus he executed a breathtaking back-handed flick pass to Esi Tonga in the lead-up to Cheyse Blair’s try in the 33rd minute. Sadly Hayne’s feat of skill won’t rate a mention on the stats sheet, but it was as good a try assist as you’ll ever see.
Wests Tigers 30 def. Panthers 0
The Moment: Finally some cohesion between Tigers playmaker Benji Marshall and his ball-running forwards, with two crisp, déjà vu-like tries in the first 28 minutes helping the visitors catapult to an 18-nil lead. The first came when Adam Blair steamed onto a Marshall no-look pass to punch through on the left edge with five minutes gone. The second (and the Tigers’ third of the game) was a carbon copy, with former Dragon Ray Cashmere the beneficiary of Benji’s magic. Nevertheless, a sign of how bad the Tigers have been travelling is that despite their whitewash they still have a negative points differential (-16). Meanwhile the lacklustre Panthers now languish 0-4 at Centrebet Stadium – and they haven’t scored a point since Luke Walsh converted a Lachlan Coote try in the 61st minute of their 15-14 loss to the Sharks in Round 5. That’s 179 unfruitful minutes of rugby league. Ouch.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.