Seven games, seven moments: Round 15
Bulldogs 28. def Dragons 20
The Moment: Playing his 200th NRL game in his spiritual rugby league backyard, Dragons lock Dean Young deserved better than to be the victim of an embarrassing one-on-one strip that saw the home side lose sight of the bunny on the stroke of halftime at WIN Stadium. The Bulldogs led 18-6 when the Dragons received a penalty near halfway with little more than 30 seconds remaining before oranges.
On tackle two, hooker Nathan Fien rushed a pass that hit interchange Jake Marketo’s boot and bounced backwards, with Young scooping up the loose ball. Thief-in-the-night Bulldogs five-eighth Josh Reynolds pilfered the pill from Young and sprinted 40 metres to deflate the home fans even further as they headed for the halftime drinks queues. Back in April the Dragons scored two tries in the final three minutes to secure captain Ben Hornby a fairytale victory in his club-record 257th NRL clash. The Dragons did their best to do the same for Young with a stirring second-half comeback but it was not enough. Meanwhile the Bulldogs remain a dominant blip on the premiership radar.
Cowboys 12 def. Broncos 0
The Moment: Was it really any surprise that Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen combined to help break the dour deadlock in this clash? Or that Gavin Cooper was on hand to receive the final pass from Bowen to score their crucial 61st-minute try? NRL Stats reveal the Cowboys are giddy-up leaders for support play in this year’s premiership, leading their next-closest rival Cronulla by 100 assists. Bowen, who took an inside ball from Thurston 35 metres out from the Broncos’ line in the lead-up to Cooper’s try, leads all-comers with 137 supports, while try-scorer Cooper is ranked eighth in the NRL.
And who was it that loomed up on the inside of Cooper, just in case he was required? Ray Thompson, ranked fifth in the comp for support play. That’s three Cowboys in the top eight in the comp, all involved. Meanwhile Anthony’s Griffin’s concerns about the Broncos’ defence remain well-founded: they missed 47 tackles on the evening.
Sharks 20 def. Warriors 19
The Moment: Jeff Robson may have grabbed two tries in the closing stages to dredge this game from the depths of a soggy Toyota Stadium but the Sharks really owe their stunning comeback victory to Todd Carney. His first puff of magic came when his side trailed 19-8 with 11 minutes remaining. The Blues five-eighth took on the Warriors from first receiver 40 metres out from the visitors’ goal, getting through a half-break before hooking a left-handed offload to support Jeremy Smith who drew opposition fullback Kevin Locke then gave Robson a clear passage to the try line.
That made it 19-14 but Carney knew the Sharks needed another big play if they were to roll downfield and press the contest. Result? He booted his second 40/20 for the season, then watched as Robson wrong-footed the Warriors three tackles into their set, crossing adjacent to the posts for the match-winner. Carney’s 40/20 was this game’s turning point for another reason – such is the thrilling and precise execution of the NRL’s stars that we’re going to suggest Warriors fullback Kevin Locke should have defused Carney’s raking kick instead of planting his foot on the touchline as he batted the ball infield. Looks as though he mistimed his effort, and the Warriors paid the price. Meanwhile spare a thought for poor Omar Slaimankhel, who endured one of the toughest NRL debuts in recent memory: the Toyota Cup speedster spilled the ball on his 30-metre line with one of his first hit-ups in the big league, then watched in abject horror as Ben Pomeroy rubbed salt into his wounds with a try on the first tackle after the turnover. Ouch.
Rabbitohs 24 def. Eels 6
The Moment: We’ll never know what fate may have had in store had Eels halfback Chris Sandow scored in the 68th minute after intercepting a Greg Inglis pass and sprinting 90 metres up-field, instead of being bundled into touch by Souths halfback Adam Reynolds just two metres short of his objective. Maybe the Eels would have gone on to secure a stunning comeback win? Bantamweight Sandow gambled correctly when he rushed off his line and snatched Inglis’ pass, looking odds-on to get Parramatta back into the clash when they trailed 18-6.
But then Reynolds, the young No.7 who was handed the tough task of filling Sandow’s boots in 2012, and who has done so with unassuming calm and skill, came from the clouds in cover to cut Sandow down with not a stride to spare. The joy of the moment was evident as Reynolds gathered himself up from the crumpled advertising hoardings and thumped the Rabbitohs insignia on his chest. Borrowing from Alanis Morissette: Isn’t it ironic… don’t cha think?
Titans 36 def. Panthers 18
The Moment: Eleven line-breaks and a total of 66 missed tackles between the combatants was irrefutable proof this clash was not built around defence. That’s not to say the end-to-end action didn’t provide plenty of thrills – although they were mostly for the fans of the home-team Titans. John Cartwright’s boys raced 1910 metres over the Skilled Park turf throughout the afternoon – the most territory gained by any side in 2012. They were helped by a Panthers team that themselves found plenty of open space (five line-breaks) but just couldn’t execute when required. The turning point came with a 12-point swing in the 27th minute, with Penrith on the attack when trailing 6-nil. Interchange Nigel Plum busted through the Titans’ defence 40 metres out and threw a speculative offload to his left when collared 15 metres from the try line.
The ball bounced off Luke O’Dwyer’s foot and was grabbed by Lachlan Coote, who looked to keep the momentum going for the Panthers with a spiral pass wide. Unfortunately ‘Mr Intercept’ Scott Prince snaffled his third steal of the season, trotted downfield and offloaded to speedster David Mead who sprinted 75 metres for a 12-nil lead from which there was no coming back. Out-of-sorts fullback Coote figured in dispatches again in the 35th minute, again for the wrong reasons, when his dropped ball saw Steve Michaels dash 55 metres for an 18-nil lead with oranges about to be sliced.
Roosters 42 def. Wests Tigers 28
The Moment: Attack was the order of the afternoon at Leichhardt Oval too, with the sides racking up a combined 98 missed tackles – 31 misses more than the previous record for 2012! The numb and grieving Tigers, with missing skipper Robbie Farah clearly in their thoughts, were horribly off the pace early, at their low point trailing 30-4 with half an hour remaining. They rallied like only they can, rampaging back into the contest with a hat-trick of tries between the 65th and 71st minutes that remarkably left them with a sniff of victory. However, that’s where their snarl ended.
In retrospect the game became a bridge too far for them in the 60th minute with the Roosters up 30-10: tricolours hooker Jake Friend darted out of dummy-half, dummied through the defence near halfway then promoted the ball to halfback Mitchell Pearce who ran 25 metres to cross to the right of the goalposts. So ended the Tigers’ seven-game winning streak – and the Roosters’ four-game losing sequence.
Storm 26 def. Sea Eagles 22
The Moment: Giving the Storm a 12-nil head-start after just 14 minutes was always going to be huge hurdle for the Sea Eagles to jump. Worse, it was the manner in which they allowed Storm captain Cameron Smith to stroll through their front line after he took the ball at first receiver, 10 metres out from their try line, to rocket the visitors to their 12-point lead. NSW coach Ricky Stuart will be thankful Anthony Watmough was more switched on for the Blues last Wednesday night. ‘Choc’ made an awful read on the Storm captain, rushing up well outside Smith’s outside shoulder to telegraph the message he wasn’t interested in him as his defensive mark. Look carefully though: it’s not often Smith has a dig himself from this far out – he knew Watmough’s reputation for split-second defensive lapses and opted to put him to the test.
This was something of a morale-boosting win for the Storm – not that you need a pick-me-up when you lead the comp by six points – who sounded the warning to all other teams that they are still lethal even without their best player on the field. Melbourne’s variety in attack was stunning. They scored from long range, an ad-lib grubber, a calculated bomb and Smith’s solo effort. It vetoed Manly’s good performance on the evening: the maroon-and-white completed their sets at a whopping 86 per cent, won the battle for territory 1449 metres to 1228 metres and missed six tackles less than the premiership frontrunners. No matter – there will be a ‘next time’ in 2012.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.