SIX GAMES, SIX MOMENTS: The Wolfman and two barnstorming rookies led their teams to victories but the NSW halves still couldn't find that winning field goal in an action-packed Round 18.
Bulldogs 32 def. Wests Tigers 20
The Moment: So wary are teams of the Bulldogs’ precise, deep backline sweeps that the oldest trick in the book was enough to steal the competition points late in proceedings at Allianz Stadium. And it was Krisnan Inu in the thick of the action for a fifth game in a row following his transfer from across the ditch. With the scores locked 20-all and with 12 minutes remaining the Bulldogs launched a right-side raid inside the Tigers’ 20-metre zone, the ball passing through four sets of hands before Inu threw a dummy that most viewers watching on television wouldn’t have bought… but one Tigers cover defenders Chris Heighington, Curtis Sironen and Beau Ryan unhappily paid full price for.
Ben Barba’s involvement underlined why he’s the early fans favourite for this year’s Dally M Medal (see Big League poll on home page) – on the play prior he trailed through as a support for team-mate Aiden Tolman before the prop was felled. At the play-the ball he was roughly side-by-side with dummy-half Michael Ennis – yet incredibly he still managed to chime in as third receiver, before hot-potato offloading to Inu. Amazing presence and awareness. On a more somber note, let’s hope Lote Tuqiri’s eighth-minute broken arm does not bring down the curtain on the dual international’s seven-year NRL career. The crowd favourite deserves better.
Raiders 40 def. Storm 12
The Moment: Will this be the game we reflect on as being the turning point in this year’s minor premiership race? Even without Billy Slater and late withdrawal Cameron Smith the Raiders weren’t expected to do a lot of, well, raiding in the Victorian capital. Especially considering they’d won just two of 15 games in Melbourne. However, fresh off a never-say-die win over the Dragons they resurrected their semi-finals hopes in stunning fashion. It’s not often the Storm are dominated in field position the way Canberra plundered territory here – the Green Machine made 1652 metres to Melbourne’s 1005 metres, largely due to their hard-to-stop offloads (15) and rampaging back three who added 465 metres.
And take a bow Edrick Lee, who bagged a hat-trick of tries in just his sixth NRL game. All three involved excellent finishing, with his third in the 71st minute off a long pass from Reece Robinson comprising a 15-metre Yohan Blake-like sprint to beat a posse of Storm cover defenders. Charismatic with the ball in hand, this 19-year-old is destined to become a cult figure and he’ll certainly pull on his share of representative jerseys over the next decade (sorry NSW fans, the colour of one of those jerseys will be maroon).
Warriors 32 def. Titans 14
The Moment: It was pretty clear what the game plan was for Warriors five-eighth James Maloney early in the second half with his side leading 16-14 – get the ball to Konrad Hurrell. The battleship-build rookie blew his trademark kisses twice in the opening half before making it a hat-trick five minutes after the break, fielding a long lobbed pass from Maloney to hit the afterburners 15 metres out and leave four Titans cover defenders shaking their head in disbelief at how such a simple play could still get the better of them. Possession told the story in this one – after an even share in the first 40 the Titans bumbled their way to 10 second-half errors to drag down their completions to an amateurish 40 per cent.
Rabbitohs 34 def. Knights 14
The Moment: It wouldn’t surprise us if, like a proud father, Souths coach Michael Maguire got out a ruler at the end of every game and measured the height of halfback Adam Reynolds, such has been his staggering growth in the game of late. It takes a tonne of talent to turn flatfooted plays and indecision into points in the blink of an eye; that Reynolds is doing so on a regular basis as a rookie shows why he’s among the hottest properties running around at the moment.
The No.7 again stole the show with a dazzling try assist for Andrew Everingham in the 19th minute after a Souths fifth-tackle play looked to end in a muddle. Dave Taylor leapt for a mid-field bomb and thrust the pill over Reynolds head. The halfback calmly fielded the Steeden, sized up his options and dabbed a perfectly weighted, low-trajectory cross-field kick into the arms of a grateful Everingham, who touched down unopposed to extend the red-and-green’s lead to 16-4 a quarter of the way through the match.
Sea Eagles 40 def. Eels 24
The Moment: Not too much tension was generated in the grandstands during this lopsided affair, which saw the home side’s sizzling attack put the Eels to the sword inside the opening 40 minutes when they raced to a 34-nil lead at the break. It was a different story in the coaches’ boxes with the boiling points of firstly Parramatta coach Stephen Kearney and then Sea Eagles mentor Geoff Toovey, as the defending premiers all but unlaced their boots in surrendering the second half 24-6.
Arguably the highlight of the afternoon was the workout the corner post on the south-western side of Brookvale Oval received, with David Williams bagging a first-half hat-trick (welcome back, Wolfie) and Ken Sio snaring a second-half double for the Eels. Williams saved his best for last… not that he had to do a lot other than catch and score. It came on the stroke of halftime when Daly Cherry-Evans rushed down the short right side and delivered a breadbasket-perfect cutout pass to the former Test flyer. Elsewhere, two observations on the Eels: off-contract Justin Poore should endeavor to draw attention to himself in ways other than being three metres offside at kick restarts, as he was in the 27th minute; and Jake Mullany, a surprise late call-up for injured Jarryd Hayne, looks to have a bright future after he scored a twinkle-toes try from close range on debut.
Sharks 14 drew with Roosters 14
The Moment: You could argue the Sharks were hard done by after they were forced to battle through 67 minutes of this torrid encounter with just three interchange players, following Jared Waerea-Hargreaves’ high shot on Ben Ross that earned the Rooster his first double-crossed-arms gesture of the evening from referee Jared Maxwell. Fans in the Shire were also left wondering what it takes to earn a stint in the sin bin for repeated transgressions after JW-H’s subsequent hit on Jeff Robson.
No matter, they had their chances before Mitchell Pearce and Aidan Guerra combined to send the clash into golden point. The telling play came early in the first section of extra time when NSW State of Origin halfback Mitchell Pearce had a rush of blood on tackle zero (tackle zero!) in front of the Sharks’ goalposts and attempted a miracle field-goal while off balance and harassed by the defence (on tackle zero!). Also, the game provided further evidence of the growth of Wade Graham as an all-round talent. The re-signed utility forward showed he’s still very much in touch with his playmaking side when he delivered a wonderful no-look short ball to winger Ricky Leutele for a try in the 10th minute. His versatility will be invaluable the deeper the season goes.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.