Five games, five moments: Round 17
Sharks 26 def. Broncos 12
The Moment: Having salvaged a 16-12 comeback after trailing 16-nil early on, Brisbane looked a good chance to level the scores and possibly set up a remarkable victory when launching an expansive right-side raid in the 54th minute. With the Sharks hemmed on their goal line, Broncos halfback Peter Wallace chimed in as second receiver and floated a cut-out ball that was intended to hit makeshift centre Dale Copley, who had positioned himself on the outside of Sharks defender Nathan Stapleton.
But as we’ve seen so often in 2012 there’s a fine line between triumph and disaster. Stapleton made the snap decision to go for the ball, not the man; he plucked the Steeden and sprinted 90 metres to restore order for his side. While Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin lamented that the intercept try – the second surrendered by the Broncos in as many weeks – was the turning point in his team’s defeat, it’s fair to say that had the Sharks lost we all would have pointed to Alex Glenn’s rare try from a Cronulla scrum feed early in the second half as the telling play. The most impressive aspect of the Sharks’ win was their tungsten-tough defence: they missed just 14 tackles, the fifth fewest by any team in a game this season.
Knights 20 def. Eels 12
The Moment: Don’t think attacking players don’t quickly calculate the defensive capabilities of their opponent before deciding whether or not to take them on. We’re guessing that’s precisely what Knights five-eighth Jarrod Mullen did two minutes into the second half of this game with the scores locked at 6-all. Mullen took the ball at first receiver 10 metres from the Eels’ line and opted to test out Reni Maitua. (We suspect he read Stats Insider’s column on NRL.com last Thursday, which highlighted that Maitua has the lowest defensive effectiveness of all locks, being brushed off or failing to nail his man one in five attempts.)
A dummy, a leg pump and Mullen powered through Maitua, carrying Joseph Paulo over the line for a try that wrested back the lead for the visitors. To be fair to Reni, it was his only missed tackle of the evening – but it also goes to show how quickly damage can be done. Special mention to Knights centre Dane Gaigai for his athletic leap, catch and offload in the lead-up to the Knights’ opening try in the fifth minute, and also his skillful try assist for Akuila Uate in the 56th minute. If this kid gets his head right discipline-wise, he’s going places.
Rabbitohs 38 def. Panthers 12
The Moment: Most of the post-match hype and newspaper column inches were devoted to ditched Maroon Dave Taylor’s stunning reply to his detractors. Certainly Taylor was an unstoppable force, scoring the bunnies’ opening try, setting up Andrew Everingham with a wonderful cut-out pass and generally tormenting the Panthers on the right edge. But mark this game down as the coming of age of Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds who displayed skill, judgment and vision not previously seen from the tattooed No. 7 during his nonetheless accomplished rookie year. Reynolds booted with precision, bamboozled the opposition with strong runs that yielded two line-breaks and a game-high eight tackle-breaks, offloaded twice and kicked seven goals from as many attempts.
But it was his exquisite try assist for Taylor to open the afternoon’s scoring that showed how much untapped talent the kid might possess. Reynolds grasped the ball at first receiver 25 metres out from the Panthers’ try-line and, spying rushing defender Cameron Ciraldo, pinned his ears back and sped through a gap up the guts. Brad Tighe came across to foil any attempted promotion of the pill but Reynolds simply dummied in front of Tighe, then passed between defenders to pick up Taylor on the charge. It was a split-second-perfect play that not too many other halfbacks would have been able to execute.
Warriors 35 def. Cowboys 18
The Moment: The Warriors started like a shot out of a gun to lead 16-nil after just 13 minutes but took their fingers off the trigger to allow the Cowboys to blaze away themselves. Incredibly the home side was no sure thing leading 22-18 with 13 minutes remaining, before hooker Nathan Friend barged over from a dummy-half four metres out from the visitors’ try-line to seal the deal in his comeback game from injury.
There was nothing skillful about the match-winner but elsewhere the Warriors shone. In particular Kevin Locke’s hot-potato pass that drifted past Kane Linnett for Konrad Hurrell to score in the 10th minute was a gem, while Feleti Mateo’s outside/inside showing of the ball before offloading to Jacob Lillyman in the 25th minute was masterful. The makeshift Cowboys had no answer to the onslaught of the home side: they missed a whopping 46 tackles as the home side gouged open 11 line-breaks on the afternoon.
Raiders 22 def. Dragons 18
The Moment: Oops, they did it again. That Canberra remain undefeated in clashes with the Dragons in the national capital since 2000 can be put down to the brilliance of Green Machine fullback Reece Robinson – and a couple of sub-standard defensive reads from St George Illawarra left-edge three-quarter Chase Stanley. Robinson was scintillating chiming in down both edges of the field through the centres but was most effective on the left fringe where he bagged two of his three tries. The visitors let the game get away from them when Robinson crossed for the second of his four-pointers two minutes from halftime, in a scenario that would hauntingly repeat itself with the gravest of consequences deep in the second half. Some smart decoy play sucked Stanley in off his opposite number, allowing Joel Thompson to pick up Robinson as he steamed through the resultant yawning gap. Jamie Soward did his best to cover for Stanley’s error but the bird had flown.
The Dragons looked like they might escape with the competition points when they led 18-16 with three minutes remaining following a Mitch Rein double, but then calamity: the Raiders headed left again, Stanley got sucked in again and the Raiders were home at the death… again. Want an indication of just how much this Dragons side is struggling in attack? Prior to Monday night’s clash the Raiders had leaked 38 tries through their left-edge defence in 14 matches – nine more than the next dodgiest side, the Warriors. That’s an average of almost three tries per game, just on that side of the field. The Dragons came up with zilch. The players and coach Steve Price can keep pumping themselves up with words of encouragement all they like but the elephant in the room can no longer be ignored.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.