EIGHT GAMES, EIGHT MOMENTS: More brilliance from Barba, Dugan, Zillman and Jennings in a weekend of surprising results.
Bulldogs 20 def. Sea Eagles 12
The Moment: You can’t coach what Ben Barba has: split-second, pure rugby league vision. Sure, he was in the doghouse when he let Jamie Lyon steal the crucial try that fed the premiers huge momentum in the 50th minute. But Barba made amends for that gaffe when he manufactured the ultimate opportunist’s try, his second of the evening, to silence the Brookvale faithful two minutes from fulltime.
With the game in the balance at 14-12 Barba stole into dummy-half eight metres out from the Manly goal line and deliberately grubber-kicked at the left-hand upright. Pinpoint perfect, he trailed through, got the bounce and touched down for the match-winner. Although this was a two-point game for most of the second stanza the writing was on the wall for the home team when Sam Perrett crossed for the Bulldogs’ second try off a neat Josh Reynolds cross-field chip in the 15th minute. Followers of NRL.com’s Stats Insider would be aware of his analysis earlier this year of results when sides have made an early double-strike of tries: they end up winning 80 per cent of the time.
Titans 14 def. Broncos 10
The Moment: The jerseys were blue with some white on them but it was the Titans, not the Bulldogs, who grabbed the headlines this week with their spectacular length-of-the-field counter-attack. After a scoreless yet enthralling opening 22 minutes the Gold Coast seized the advantage when Scott Prince plucked a Corey Norman attacking chip kick out of the air on his 20-metre line and quick as a flash passed to fullback Will Zillman who’d sprinted off his 10-metre line in support.
Zillman beat four players in a scything run, threw a flat pass outside to winger David Mead who sprinted 50 metres to score. The other key moment came in the 62nd minute when Luke Bailey was awarded an eight-point try with the scores locked at 6-all. It takes a lot to enrage the man they call ‘Bull’; Josh Hoffman’s desperate swinging arm attempt to dislodge the ball as Bailey scored certainly did the trick. Last, some friendly advice for perennial second-man-in Sam Thaiday, who rushed to join a minor stink in the 58th minute and appeared to raise and thrust his forearm into the face of Titans lock Luke O’Dwyer: careful skipper.
The Moment: The Eels had this one in the bag the moment Stephen Kearney resigned. We’ve seen it time and again over recent decades: a bunch of under-performing players who’ve had a good hard look at themselves after their embattled coach has paid the price for their season(s) of woe with his job, come out and blindside their opposition with a monumental upset. And they don’t come much bigger than taking down the competition’s co-leaders Melbourne – in the process inflicting the first four-in-a-row defeat suffered on Craig Bellamy’s coaching watch.
The key moment came when the officials penalised Storm winger Sisa Waqa for walking off the mark 20 metres out from his goal line in the 19th minute. From the ensuing penalty the Eels leapt to a 10-nil lead courtesy of Ben Smith’s dubious grounding of a Jarryd Hayne grubber kick. (Seriously… why was Waqa penalised? It was the first of its kind all year… and he hadn’t even played the ball! Just tell him to retreat two metres…) Of course, the fairytale moment came when Chris Sandow set up Nathan Hindmarsh’s first try of 2012 in his third-last game at Parramatta Stadium before he retires on Monday September 2.
Knights 24 def. Warriors 19
The Moment: You could not have put enough cash on the Warriors to win this after they blitzed the Knights to lead 18-nil with still more than an hour of play remaining. But incredibly the home side found themselves embracing defeat with 20 minutes to go, after Knights centre Dane Gagai intercepted an Omar Slaimankhel offload and sprinted 70 metres down the right touchline for the match-winner.
Which of course would have come as a HUGE relief to team-mate Akuila Uate; his nonchalance when grounding the footy with one hand cost his side a crucial six points shortly after halftime. Bet Aku gets a few extra laps of Hunter Stadium at training this week.
Rabbitohs 36 def. Dragons 14
The Moment: Cynics would say this game was done and dusted when Nathan Merritt crossed for the second of his three tries in the 26th minute to hand the bunnies a 16-4 lead – thus vaulting the red and green beyond the Dragons’ meager 14.9 points scored average in 2012. Certainly if you were a Red V fan you were concerned when Souths ripped through St George Illawarra’s usually stubborn defensive line in their first set, with Andrew Everingham crossing in the right corner to finish off a blistering 70-metre movement.
The key contributor here was five-eighth John Sutton who galloped 40 metres straight down the centre of the park before showing excellent skill to loop a long spiral pass to support Dylan Farrell. Sutton finished with three try assists, two line busts and nearly 120 metres of territory in a superb exhibition. There were shameful scenes too, with players from both sides brawling in a heap on top of badly injured Dean Young who was later medi-cabbed off the ground in a neck brace. What if their actions had added further injury to Young? The game is doing its best to grow participant numbers at junior level and this did not help our cause one iota.
Raiders 36 def. Sharks 4
The Moment: Three converted tries in the opening 20 minutes and a fourth on the half hour left the Sharkies an insurmountable task at Toyota Stadium. Canberra were hot and focused from the kick-off; remarkably they tallied more metres in the opening 40 minutes (900) than they did when clocking up the fewest by any team in 80 minutes this year against the Tigers back in Round 13 (833).
Nine of their starting 13 made more than 100 metres! Josh Dugan, back in the No.1 jersey after a three-game flirtation at five-eighth, was a major destroyer with 256 metres. The game was already gone when Dugan provided the highlight, an athletic leaping steal of Todd Carney’s desperate pass to the flanks followed by a pin-the-ears-back 92-metre sprint to the try-line for a 28-4 lead in the 65th minute.
Panthers 28 def. Roosters 16
The Moment: The highlight of this inconsequential clash (at least in regards to the make-up of the top eight) was Panthers centre Michael Jennings’ combination with promising rookie Matt Robinson for a long-range try in the 54th minute that pretty much wrapped up the match. Leading 16-6 Robinson confronted the Roosters’ defence down the left edge, displaying jinking footwork at the line before delivering a wonderful one-arm offload to his trailing team-mate on halfway. Jennings hit the afterburners to easily arc around cover defender Anthony Minichiello and score.
The try was a reminder of how badly the mountain men need Jennings to remain among their number. And can you believe it? The Centrebet Stadium throng actually booed Roosters prop Martin Kennedy as he trudged off the park nursing his bloodied and broken nose, the legacy of Travis Burns’ brain-snap high shot in the 72nd minute. Talk about a tough crowd!
Cowboys 29 def. Wests Tigers 16
The Moment: A highly entertaining if a little scrappy affair, this game threw up a finalist for try of the year following the remarkable turnaround effort bagged by Cowboys winger Kalifa Faifai Loa in the 23rd minute. Leading 10-6, Tigers winger Matt Utai surrendered possession with a pushed pass 40 metres out from the home side’s try-line that was happily grabbed by Gavin Cooper. The Cowboys’ second-rower immediately passed to Johnathan Thurston, who linked with Matt Bowen and before you could say ‘what happened there?’ the Cowboys were streaking down the right edge.
Bowen figured twice before he handed off inside to Faifai Loa for a truly stunning four-pointer – the Cowboys’ fourth from a turnover in 2012 and the first surrendered by the Tigers this season. The turning point, however, came in the 45th minute when Antonio Winterstein stripped the Steeden from Tigers fullback Beau Ryan 25 metres out from the black-and-golds’ try-line; two plays later mid-season recruit Anthony Mitchell burrowed over for a 22-16 advantage.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.