Five games, five moments: Round 14
Wests Tigers 10 def. Storm 6
The Moment: A thunderous triple-whammy immediately after the halftime break smashed the Storm out of this contest. Just when Gareth Widdop’s 40th-minute penalty goal for a 2-all scoreline gave the home fans their first reason to cheer on a miserable night in the Victorian capital, the Tigers struck back with two quick-fire tries – the second assisted by a fundamental handling error. Whammy No.1 came when the Tigers utilised the width of the field to sweep from right sideline to left. The play featured a classic Benji Marshall double-pump behind decoy Adam Blair that caused just enough indecision among the Storm’s outside defenders for Lote Tuqiri to get the ball in space and power over.
Whammy No.2 came at the end of the Tigers’ set from the restart, with Marshall’s last-tackle clearance kick spilled cold by Storm winger Justin O’Neill 20 metres out from his try line. And whammy No.3 came from the ensuing scrum, when diminutive right ringer Matt Utai ducked under a couple of try-save attempts to catapult the visitors to a 10-2 lead. A left hook, followed by a right hook – and this fight was as good as over. It was a huge effort by the Tigers, given they made 18 fewer runs and missed 35 tackles to the Storm’s 15. (BTW: what was Benji Marshall thinking taking a short line-dropout on the stroke of halftime that was fielded by the opposition? Talk about a potential coach-killer…)
Raiders 32 def. Knights 16
The Moment: Coach Wayne Bennett told the post-game press conference after this shellacking, the Knights’ fifth loss in a row and their fifth in seven games at Hunter Stadium in 2012: “I don’t know whether we are going backwards or forwards right now.” The disgruntled fans who booed their players from the arena know. And it’s not like the embattled Raiders staged a remarkable form revival in crafting their 16-point win – they just had to miss a few less tackles (32 to Newcastle’s 40) and hang onto the Steeden for slightly longer (13 errors to the Knights’ 16).
On the plus side, the Josh Dugan-at-five-eighth experiment worked a treat at its second attempt. The gangly playmaker conjured three try assists, two from passes, and ran the ball 10 times, including five dashes from first-receiver. It was his deft inside pass for Trevor Thurling to score in the 63rd minute that gave the visitors breathing space after James McManus had clawed the Knights to within four points of the Raiders just minutes earlier. Perhaps the turning point came when Knights prop Kade Snowden spilled the ball while getting to his feet the first tackle after McManus’ try. From the turnover the Raiders headed left; Dugan threw exactly the sort of pass he’s used to catching, with Thurling steaming on an inside line from 10 metres out.
Sharks 22 def. Titans 12
The Moment: Toyota Stadium fans tensed up when Titans centre Beau Champion finished off some smart lead-up work from hooker Matt Srama to claw the Gold Coast to within four points of the resurgent Sharkies with a quarter of this match remaining. But you could hear the collective sighs of relief when prodigal son Isaac De Gois added to his remarkable try-scoring tally for the home side with a lucky solo effort in the 63rd minute that effectively snapped the team’s worrying two-game losing streak.
De Gois ducked out of dummy-half eight metres out from the Titans’ goal line and dabbed a grubber kick through the ruck. Unfortunately for the Gold Coast, this was when Aidan Sezer’s hacky sack reflexes kicked in: the No.6 hung out his right foot, with the Steeden propping into the air – and into the grateful hands of De Gois who plunged over for the match-winner. It was De Gois’ 12th try in the black, white and blue in 61 games – not a bad strike rate. De Gois endured a pretty rough trot at the end of last season, shown the door by the now-struggling Knights just after he’d bought a house in the Hunter. Karma, anyone?
Broncos 40 def. Roosters 22
The Moment: It’s a toss-up between referee Matt Cecchin awarding Tinirau Arona a Roosters try in the 34th minute despite being unsighted on the grounding of the football, and Cecchin and partner Adam Devcich agreeing to disagree about which team had rights to possession in the lead-up to Alex Glenn’s crucial try for the Broncos right after halftime. The latter bungle, which saw Lachlan Maranta and BJ Leilua wrestle for the ball like kids fighting for a prized toy in a kindergarten playground, was jaw-dropping amazing. Play was allowed to proceed despite doubts about A) who had control of the ball; and B) the clear suggestion a tackle had been effected either way. New rules have been introduced this year allowing refs to call back players who continue to run after being called ‘held’, giving them the benefit of the doubt about not hearing the call. That allows for smart refereeing. The smart refereeing move here would have been to call back Maranta and get him to play the ball.
Fortunately the Arona ‘try’ and the Glenn try cancelled each other out on the scoreboard, so they did not affect the outcome. It’s one thing for referees to be encouraged to back their judgment when making calls but it’s quite another for them to presume things have gone to plan when they haven’t got the total picture. Players and coaches train and prepare too hard to be deprived in this manner. Matt Cecchin is a fine referee who is destined to figure at the top level for many years to come. Let’s just put his gaffes down to a learning curve. In the end these incidents will make him a better ref, and we’ll all be better for it too.
Warriors 30 def. Panthers 16
The Moment: Some great pressure from soon-to-be mountain man Lewis Brown on Panthers kicker Luke Walsh helped the Warriors wrest back the contest on a miserable night at Centrebet Stadium. The visitors looked shoo-ins for victory after racing to an early 12-nil lead before three rapid-fire scoring plays catapulted the Panthers to a surprise 16-12 lead at halftime. But in the 53rd minute a slight misjudgment from Walsh proved costly: the halfback stood a little too shallow in preparing to make a last-tackle clearing kick 30 metres out from his try line, allowing Brown time to get up in his face and cause him to check his play. Instead Walsh looked to attack, firing a flat pass to fullback Lachlan Coote on his left. Unfortunately Coote’s horror night with his hands continued (two errors, both leading to tries) – the ball was spilled, with Warriors centre Konrad Hurrell scooping up the pill and sprinting over under the posts for the game-changing try.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.