The best finish to an NRL game ever?
EIGHT GAMES, EIGHT MOMENTS: The Rabbitohs' miracle finish, the Broncos just hang on, Carney's loss is Morris's gain and the Uate show returns...
Broncos 10 def. Warriors 8
The Moment: It was a moral victory to the men from a cross the ditch who outscored the home side two tries to one, completed their sets more efficiently, missed a third fewer tackles and came up with a do-or-die passage of play in the final seconds that deserved better than the ref’s whistle to end the game. Few would have begrudged the Warriors the win had Omar Slaimankhel beaten Gerard Beale to ground football in the Broncos’ in-goal on the siren after James Maloney’s last-ditch cross-field kick, the second punted in the Warriors’ final throw of the dice.
You could say the turning point of this clash came even before kick-off when respective goal-kickers Corey Parker and James Maloney laced up their boots in the dressing sheds: Parker booted a perfect three from three while Maloney was off target with all three of his attempts. NRL.com’s match preview predicted the outcome would boil down to a try-saving tackle from either Kevin Locke or Josh Hoffman – well, congrats to Josh Hoffman for his gutsy effort to halt big Manu Vatuvei in the dying seconds. The telling play, for sure.
Bulldogs 32 def. Eels 12
The Moment: That Chris Sandow finally showed some urgency and spark in attack in this game was completely overshadowed by his customary underwhelming defence. So go-through-the-motions is the No.7 that coach Stephen Kearney must surely be at the end of his tether (again). Sandow’s crime on this evening was a truly woeful attempt to contain Ben Barba on the Bulldogs’ goal line after his own good, deep attacking kick. Sandow and three team-mates offered a straight line on the chase – but that mattered little when Sandow snatched half-heartedly at Barba’s jumper, before the opposition fullback motored 99 metres to score.
What must stick deeper in coach Kearney’s craw is that once Sandow realised Barba was no chance of being collared in his sprint to the line, he dropped off the chase near halfway. At that stage Eels captain Nathan Hindmarsh was further away from Barba than Sandow – but in typical Hindy fashion he refused to give up and it was only his committed follow-up that stopped Barba from running around underneath the goal posts.
Cowboys 20 def Storm 16
The Moment: The bounce of the Steeden ultimately proved the difference here, with North Queensland getting a dream result off a double-kick play from skipper Johnathan Thurston when trailing 10-6 with a quarter of the match remaining. JT chipped ahead on the 40-metre line; the ball deflected off the Storm defence before the five-eighth soccer-kicked it deep towards the right corner post. Then came arguably the unkindest bounce we’ve seen all season: as Storm winger Sisa Waqa advanced to scoop up the pill it propped, as if yanked by a puppeteer’s strings, over Waqa’s head and into the in-goal where Brent Tate won the race to score.
This game also confirmed the talent of Cowboy Kane Linnett who is developing into one of the strongest-running centres in the NRL. Linnett bagged two tries and would have snared a hat-trick had it not been for a superhuman defensive effort from Gareth Widdop on his try-line. However, we didn’t much like Storm captain Cameron Smith’s late challenge on Linnett after the Cowboy crossed for his second four-pointer 11 minutes from fulltime. There’s a fine line between intent and accident and we think Smith sailed pretty close to the breeze here.
Knights 32 def. Sea Eagles 6
The Moment: Sensational finishing from the Knights’ wingers to open the scoring early in each half gave the home side a crucial boost. First Akuila Uate powered through Manly trio Kieran Foran, Tony Williams and Dean Whare to post the first points of the match in the fifth minute. Then James McManus channeled Superman to dive over in the left corner for a 16-nil lead in the 53rd minute that all but put a line through Manly’s chances of victory.
As good as the finishing was the set-up play was pretty special too – Darius Boyd and Dane Gagai flicked the Steeden on as though it were coated in molten lava, while anyone seated more than 30 metres from the action could have been forgiven for thinking skipper Kurt Gidley had made a shock early comeback from injury, such was the precision of halfback Tyrone Roberts’ bullet cut-out pass for McManus. And how good was it to see Uate literally run rings around an opposition again? That’s precisely what he did to poor Dean Whare to score his second try five minutes from fulltime.
Wests Tigers 26 def. Panthers 18
The Moment: Huge sighs of relief that Luke Walsh’s controversial try on the hour didn’t affect the distribution of the two valuable competition points from this game. Clearly (well, to everyone but the officials) Panthers interchange Shane Shackleton took Wests Tigers fullback Tim Moltzen out of play when he charged through on a decoy run. That presented Walsh with a saloon passage to the try-line and despite the howls of protest from Moltzen and the Tigers’ camp, somehow the play was given the green light.
On a positive note, when was the last time you saw a lock forward run 40 metres through the middle of the ruck to score? Take a bow Chris Heighington, who seized his opportunity following some poor marker defence from Luke Walsh and Dayne Weston to clinch the match-winner in the 77th minute.
Titans 38 def. Raiders 26
The Moment: Oh dear. After combining commitment with flair to down the Dragons and competition pacesetters Melbourne in successive outings, Raiders fans were excused for thinking they were watching a team of imposters this week. Certainly the good work of the past fortnight unraveled in an unremarkable 80 minutes when their feeble defence hemorrhaged 11 line-breaks and missed 47 tackles. Yes, they scored three tries in the final four minutes but that only served to highlight similar deficiencies in the Gold Coast’s commitment.
The most interesting thing to take out of this lopsided, touch-football affair was the impact of Jamal Idris on the right side of the field: the corridor was his favourite stamping ground at the Bulldogs before Titans coach John Cartwright shifted him to the left edge this year. Idris pierced the opposition to help set up Steve Michaels’ first try for a 12-4 lead after 17 minutes, then bullocked into the open and delivered the final pass for Michaels’ second try 10 minutes later. And a special mention to Titans fullback William Zillman who carved up his former team like a succulent Sunday roast, with five line-breaks, 17 tackle-breaks and 240 metres of territory. One for the scrapbook.
Dragons 18 def. Sharks 10
The Moment: Wow… what a stroke of genius from coach Steve Price to allow the Dragons free rein in attack! Minus playmaker Jamie Soward it was clear from the outset that surprise was going to be their biggest weapon throughout the afternoon. The result? A whopping 23 offloads – the most tallied by any team to date in 2012. (The Sharks weren’t shy promoting second-phase play either, tallying 18 offloads.) Still, who knows what may have eventuated had the Sharks managed to score on the stroke of halftime instead of conceding a 75-metre try to Dragons broken-play specialist Brett Morris.
With the crimson shirts clinging to a 6-4 lead the Sharks launched a right-side raid early in the tackle count. Unfortunately for the visitors Todd Carney threw a poor pass behind his support players Brett Pomeroy and Isaac Gordon that was swooped on by Morris for a 12-4 lead at halftime. But can anyone tell us why the Dragons did not rush to set their pack and look to score more points in the final 40 seconds of this clash after they earned a scrum feed off a Cronulla error? St George Illawarra sit 10th on the ladder with a poor points differential (-36); points differential could be the difference between them making the top eight and watching the finals series from the sidelines. Their early back-patting as the clock wound down was a worry.
Rabbitohs 24 def. Roosters 22
The Moment: In a nutshell, this was the best final two minutes of a game of rugby league we’ve ever seen. Flashback to Round 1 and it was South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds who fell agonizingly short of saving the day for his side, beaten to the chase by Anthony Minichiello who secured the Roosters a stunning comeback victory. This time around Reynolds got even the best way possible, backing up Issac Luke to field a bouncing offload (no easy task given the circumstances) and steal the red and green a remarkable two competition points that leaves them in fourth spot on the ladder. Talk about irony…
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.