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Dragons 8 def. Titans 6

The Moment: Dragons fans are probably wondering how the ‘Pink V’ almost lost this one given their on-paper dominance of the understrength Titans. Usually when a team misses just 15 tackles in 80 minutes and annihilates the opposition in line-breaks four to zip, you’d expect some pretty vocal post-match celebrations. Instead fans shuffled out of WIN Stadium relieved to have escaped with the two competitions points. The home side maneuvered into the lead in the 73rd minute courtesy of the second of two Jamie Soward penalty goals. However, their evening looked to take on the shape of a pear soon after when winger Phil Graham slid over in the right corner.

At first glance it appeared a surefire four-pointer: Titans skipper Scott Prince hoisted a bomb from 40 metres out that Dragons trio Brett Morris, Jamie Soward and Daniel Vidot inexplicably failed to contest. Their lack of communication gifted Titans five-eighth Aidan Sezer a clean catch, and he quickly spread the Steeden to Jamal Idris out wide who offloaded to Graham. Alas, replays showed Sezer was a mere half a stride offside at the kick. Put it down to a learning curve for a very promising rookie, who had shown maturity beyond his years with a deft grubber to set up his captain for a try and a 6-4 Titans lead early in the second half. Special mention to Jason Nightingale’s two try saves that kept the Dragons in the hunt: the first came in the 16th minute when he blocked and deflected a dangerous grubber over the dead-ball line; the second was a full-stretch check on David Mead in the 26th minute that forced a mistake from the Titans’ speedster as he looked to ground the ball.  

Watch the crucial Titans no-try decision

Broncos 26 def. Rabbitohs 12

The Moment: Brisbane five-eighth Corey Norman was entitled to look for a hole to hide in after Rabbitohs winger Nathan Merritt stole an intercept off his pass and sprinted 90 metres to wrest back the lead for the Rabbitohs in the 47th minute. Instead Norman redeemed himself in the best possible way – albeit with a touch of intervention from the football Gods. The Broncos battled back to a 16-12 advantage with a Dale Copley try with 20 minutes remaining before Norman was the beneficiary of some dazzling lead-up work from team-mate Andrew McCullough.

The hooker ducked out of dummy-half 30 metres from the visitors’ try-line, chipped over the top of Rabbitohs Luke Burgess and Nathan Peats, powered through the half-check of his opposite number Issac Luke and looked to regather. Realising he wouldn’t get to the Steeden in time and with Souths fullback Greg Inglis advancing, McCullough soccer-volleyed the ball with the hope of getting it into the in-goal. In a freakish outcome the pill ricocheted off Inglis’ leg straight into the waiting arms of Norman, who dived over under the sticks for the try that broke the visitors’ hearts.

Norman and McCullough combine for a freak try

Cowboys 40 def. Raiders 18

The Moment: Isn’t Cowboys halfback Ray Thompson thriving away from the spotlight that’s shone on his halves colleague Johnathan Thurston each week? JT has called the shots with aplomb in 2012, tallying 15 try assists and 17 line-break assists – but incredibly he’s yet to cross the stripe for a try. Meanwhile Thompson has taken his opportunities when they’ve presented, with his try on halftime for a 30-6 advantage at oranges a good example of his selective injection.

Thompson’s fifth four-pointer for 2012 came when he mimicked his co-captain’s renowned show-and-go and sliced through on the right edge, 20 metres out from the Raiders’ goal-line. Meanwhile Matt Bowen may not have bagged a try in their rout but he certainly put up his hand for Origin III selection with a hat-trick of try assists. The best was his left-to-right, bullet spiral to winger Ashley Graham who made it try No.14 to maintain his spot at the top of the NRL try-scorer’s list.

Thompson goes it alone to slice through the Raiders

Eels 19 def. Panthers 18

The Moment: Penrith’s failure to muscle up and make a defensive statement in this game’s final set of six tackles was the catalyst to Parramatta’s last-ditch victory. That the Eels were permitted to advance the ball 80 metres in five unspectacular plays in the lead-up to Chris Sandow’s last-ditch field-goal would have had Penrith Ivan Cleary shaking his head in resignation at the horror year that continues to unfold for the mountain men. They should have pulled out all stops to contain their foe after Lachlan Coote’s long-range field-goal attempt was fielded by Jarryd Hayne just in front of his goal-line. Instead the Eels steamrolled downfield and Sandow was provided with the perfect platform to plunge a dagger through their hearts.

Parramatta owed much to the inspirational contribution from skipper Nathan Hindmarsh (23 hit-ups, 199 metres, six offloads, nine tackle-breaks and 43 tackles). It was Hindy who spurred their second-half comeback with a wonderful try assist for Luke Burt in the 67th minute, busting through the line 40 metres out with a one-handed carry before passing inside to his team-mate who bridged the deficit to 18-12 with 12 minutes remaining.

(Observation: fans are entitled to ask whether the refs are affording sides greater leniency in extra time given an extraordinary incident in the 88th minute that we defy anyone to tell us should not have resulted in a penalty being awarded against team-in-possession Parramatta... or at least a turn-over to the Panthers. Parra were cut huge slack by referee Jared Maxwell who called ‘play on’ after Jarryd Hayne clumsily failed to play the ball correctly midway through the second section of extra time. Look, we know and respect that players are going to be massively fatigued after this much exertion but that’s no excuse for changing rules interpretations. If it’s an error in the 10th minute, it should be an error in the 88th minute. It didn’t affect the outcome of the game… but what if it had? All hell would have broken loose.)

The Eels charge upfield to set up Sandow's grandstand finish

Bulldogs 20 def. Storm 4

The Moment: You couldn’t miss Ben Barba in Mackay. He was the player whose face adorned hometown hero T-shirts made especially in his honour. And whose extended family and friends packed out the local Virgin Australia Stadium in their multiple dozens. And most importantly, the guy who set up the try that probably embraced more turf than any other in the history of the game.

It was Barba’s stunning counter-attack that put this match to bed after the ’Dogs led 14-4 with five minutes remaining. A perfectly weighted, long Cooper Cronk kick sent Barba deep into his in-goal, where he was swamped by a thunderbolt of Storm chasers. From a standing start just centimetres from the dead-ball line Barba managed to evade the opposition and with puffs of dirt whipped up behind him hurtled into the field of play. First he swerved around Cronk on the 10-metre line… next he swerved around Cameron Smith on the 40 – copping a whack across his chops that all but knocked him off kilter. Balanced again, he steamed on. With last line of defence Matt Duffie hovering Barba kicked infield (on the outside of his right foot, at pace!) for support Josh Morris, who gathered the ball on its second bounce and plunged over. By our calculations it was a 112-metre passage of play. Wow. How are you going to keep a lid on premiership expectations now Des Hasler?  

Barba sets up a sensational (very) long-range try

Sea Eagles 52 def. Roosters 14

The Moment: The Roosters made five line-breaks to Manly’s three, yet conceded nine tries and were thumped by 38 points… what the? Analysis shows the home side simply had no answer to the Sea Eagles’ pinpoint attacking kicks, which yielded five four-pointers. Heck, even rampaging second-rower Tony Williams was an enabler with a deft chip kick for Steve Matai’s first try in the 21st minute. And you had to feel for Roosters fullback Anthony Minichiello who was horribly wrong-footed by the Steeden when attempting to clean up Matai’s speculative kick into the Roosters’ in-goal in the 60th minute. With his team so far behind on the scoreboard (down 28-14) Mini was hoping to snatch the ball and counter-attack rather than just defuse the issue; instead player and football kept a polite distance – it was as though they were ‘like’ magnetic poles repelling each other – with Brett Stewart swooping from the clouds to score.

The ball bounces Stewart's way against the Roosters

Knights 38 def. Wests Tigers 20

The Moment: Boy, when the Tigers go off the boil they really go off the boil. With a 12-nil lead in even time, fans of the black-and-pinks (as they were for this Women in League Round) would have been forgiven for growing cocky at the prospect of a looming thrashing. However, no-one at Hunter Stadium dreamed it would be the visitors on the receiving end! It was like someone turned their lights off at the half hour, with Newcastle flicking a switch on their own. Amazingly at full-time the Knights, who have had trouble breaking a breadstick in recent times, had nine line-breaks to their name. Meanwhile the Tigers were restricted to just 950 running metres – the fifth-fewest metres in a game by a side all year (they also occupy second spot on that unwanted list after their 923 metres against the Raiders in Round 4). Last week they missed 58 tackles… this week 42.

But as confounding as the Tigers’ capitulation was, so too was the reversal in the Knights’ attacking game – in particular veteran Timana Tahu, who bagged three tries in 12 minutes either side of halfway. Tahu looked energetic and motivated as he tore the Tigers to shreds, with his first – an angled solo run to cross under the posts – the pick of his contribution. The Knights drew level three minutes from the break when Tahu bagged his second try and when Tyrone Roberts landed the conversion from the sideline they remarkably headed to the sheds with a 16-14 lead – and an overwhelming amount of self-belief. 

•    The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.

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