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Storm 19 def. Broncos 18

The Moment: The result of this cliffhanger hinged on three telling kicks from Melbourne general Cooper Cronk. The first, with the Storm trailing 12-6 in the 43rd minute, involved a rehearsed move whereby the No.7 grubber kicked towards the goalposts for fullback Billy Slater – however the ball ricocheted off the right upright and back into the field of play. When the Steeden was just halfway to the goal line Cronk sensed it would hit the timber, so he sprinted through in support. The result: a wonderful opportunist’s try.

Next, Cronk’s pinpoint cross-field bomb from 15 metres out was spilled by Broncos makeshift left winger Josh Hoffman for Sisa Waqa to grab his second try of the night and nudge the Storm into the lead in the 52nd minute. And lastly Cronk piloted home what would prove the match-winning field goal with six minutes remaining.

Video ref Paul Simpkins’ decision to hit the green light on Waqa’s opening try three minutes before halftime despite suggestions the winger had knocked on in the grounding was crucial too, given the one-point margin at fulltime. Small comfort for the freefalling Broncos that NRL refs boss Bill Harrigan later admitted Simpkins got it wrong.

Cronk scores a crucial opportunist try

Bulldogs 23 def. Wests Tigers 22

The Moment: So much to marvel at here: Krisnan Inu’s jinking run that set up Aiden Tolman to open the Bulldogs’ account… Ben Barba’s trademark counter-attack that ended with Josh Reynolds’ nerveless soft-feet dribble into the in-goal to score their second try after the five-eighth failed to get an agreeable bounce of the Steeden… Marika Koroibete’s determined first four-pointer of the night (more on that in a moment)… Benji Marshall and Blake Ayshford combining for Marshall to score and draw within two points inside the last 10 minutes.

But let’s address the elephant in the room: Jonathan Wright’s 74th minute try that was given the green light by video ref Sean Hampstead despite a roar of protest from the Tigers. Did Frank Pritchard momentarily run behind team-mate Josh Morris? Yes. Did he obstruct opposition defender Blake Ayshford? Probably not – Ayshford had already committed to Morris. Were any other Tigers impeded? No – Liam Fulton had a clear shot on Pritchard, while the back-rower’s deft offload to Ben Barba caught the Tigers’ cover napping.

But as refs boss Bill Harrigan later explained, the fact Pritchard was able to offload constituted an unfair advantage to the ’Dogs – something video ref Hampstead had not taken into account. Easily explained… or was it? The fact is until the NRL outlaws decoy runners advancing beyond the player in possession (and that is not going to happen) fans will continue to argue over these sorts of plays.

With that out of the way, our vote for moment of the match goes to Marika Koroibete’s effort in the 33rd minute, when the towering Fijian fielded an innocuous, last-resort Robbie Farah cross-field chip 13 metres out, then ploughed through Josh Reynolds, Sam Perrett and Ben Barba to dot down for a try he was not entitled to score. Right there we may have witnessed the end of injured star Lote Tuqiri’s career. Koroibete, 20, is a carbon copy of the young Tuqiri, who at nearly 33 and without a contract for 2013 must be long odds of gracing the park again. The king is dead… long live the king!  

Watch Koroibete's bulldozing effort

Raiders 24 def. Roosters 20

The Moment: The bounce of the Steeden sure went the way of the Raiders here, with Reece Robinson grabbing a fortunate four-pointer that proved decisive to their third win from their past four matches in a victory that elevated them alongside the Broncos and Wests Tigers at the bottom of the finals zone. With the scores locked at 16-all Canberra halfback Sam Williams piloted an accurate cross-field bomb to the left edge. A bunch of Roosters were on hand to try to block the Raiders’ chasers, with Shaun Kenny-Dowall successfully preventing Jarrod Croker from getting a play on the ball. However, so intent was SK-D on playing the man and not the ball, it left a gaping hole for the pill to bounce; remarkably it propped directly into the hands of stunned bystander Robinson who juggled it several times before plunging over for what would prove the match-winner.

Meanwhile, was Anthony Minichiello’s careless forearm hit a send-off offence? Probably not in isolation – although it didn’t help that it was his second high shot on his Canberra opposite in less than three seconds. As for the dazed and bloodied Dugan, who lolled around on the ground like a knocked-down boxer, much has been made of protecting players concussed during games. Subsequently we are surprised Dugan was allowed to remain on the field.   

The bounce of the ball goes Robinson's way 

Sharks 20 def. Rabbitohs 7

The Moment: Adam Reynolds taking the one-point option with 14 minutes to play may have seized the bunnies a 7-6 lead but it also stirred the Sharks into action. Having pretty much just been wallowing around with water filtering through their gills Cronulla upped their urgency and it paid off almost immediately when Tyson Frizell crashed over on the left edge in the 69th minute. However, they remained vulnerable when Carney was unable to convert – which made the NSW No.6’s under-pressure penalty goal for a 14-7 lead with three minutes remaining the crucial play. Just check out the Sharks’ trainer – rarely has two points in a regular-round match prompted such unchecked emotion!

Carney lands a crucial penalty to give the Sharks the edge

Titans 24 def. Eels 16

The Moment: Another game, another obstruction drama – although unlike the try awarded to the Bulldogs this one to the Titans hardly raised a murmur of protest on the field and was really only frowned upon by Eels coach Brad Arthur after the game following some media prompting.

The play unfolded with the Titans leading 14-10 in the 59th minute; skipper Scott Prince grabbed the ball at first receiver 10 metres out from the Eels’ line, bypassing decoy Ben Ridge to deliver to Ashley Harrison. Team-mate Luke O’Dwyer chimed in on his own decoy run, with Harrison shrugging off Eels defender Chris Sandow. He then darted left behind O’Dwyer before delivering to Steve Michaels who crossed unopposed for a lead the Eels would find too tough to reel in. Yes, Harrison ran behind O’Dwyer but there was a distance of five metres between the two at the cross-over point and O’Dwyer had already run through the defensive line. Common sense makes that a try.         

Michaels scores a crucial Titans try

Panthers 18 def. Warriors 16

The Moment: Forty-three missed tackles and 16 shocking errors were catalysts to the Kiwis’ sixth successive defeat, which now leaves them in danger of grabbing this season’s ‘biggest disappointment’ tag off likely wooden-spooners Parramatta. The home side never should have let the visitors off the hook when they led 10-nil approaching the break. In particular we hope Roosters coach Brian Smith wasn’t watching new recruit James Maloney’s feeble missed tackle on Lachlan Coote just metres out from goal that allowed Penrith back into the contest with a 16-12 scoreline in the 60th minute.

With just two games remaining it’s neck and neck between Chris Sandow and Maloney for the dubious title of worst defender in 2012; Sandow leads the way with 108, with Maloney a close second on 106. Daylight runs third.

Meanwhile, can you be placed on report for a careless high shot on your own player? Poor Shaun Johnson was left bloodied and dazed when felled by a swinging arm from team-mate Russell Packer 15 minutes from fulltime. The hardhead prop was looking to contain opposition ball carrier Clint Newton with a wrapping embrace but collected his No.7 instead. Packer saw the funny side, although we can’t say Johnson was amused.    

Maloney's missed tackle lets the Panthers back into the contest

Sea Eagles 42 def. Knights 20

The Moment: When the Stewart brothers plus halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran are fit and firing, all’s well on the northern beaches. Throw in some rampaging runs from back-to-form Tony Williams and the signs are neon-bright that the Sea Eagles will be tough to dislodge from their perch as reigning premiers. Certainly all of the above stars were glaringly good as Manly ran riot with a seven-try first-half onslaught that pulled the plug on the Knights’ semi-finals surge.

The standout plays were Glenn Stewart’s right-edge try assist for captain Jamie Lyon after just three minutes; Glenn and brother Brett combining for the former to cross for their second try in the sixth minute; ‘T-Rex’ shrugging off Jarrod Mullen to motor 25 metres down the left edge to score in the 17th minute; and our favourite – Jamie Buhrer’s dummy-half bust near halfway that saw Foran continue the raid, pass to DC-E then back up to cross under the posts for a try that was converted for their 22nd point in the 22nd minute.

Incredibly, some of the match statistics were at odds with what we witnessed on the park: the sides were level-pegging in line-breaks (seven) and errors (11). But the Knights’ shot themselves in the foot with a poor 61 per cent completions and missed a whopping 52 tackles (Manly missed just 28).         

Buhrer runs clear to set up Foran

Cowboys 32 def. Dragons 22

The Moment: Former Illawarra junior Kane Linnett had a happy homecoming in Wollongong – the powerfully built Cowboys centre crossed for two tries in the space of 12 minutes midway through the first half to sound the death knell on the Dragons’ 2012 season. Both came from St George Illawarra mistakes: first Linnett skipped through a poor Jamie Soward missed tackle to dot down in the 15th minute; then he capitalised on a Ben Creagh dropped ball that gifted the visitors possession deep in Dragons territory, with fullback Matt Bowen his enabler in the 22nd minute.

Remarkably the home side fought their way back into the match and actually led 22-18 shortly after halftime – before an ugly all-in brawl resulted in Red V winger Daniel Vidot and North Queensland interchange Ricky Thorby being sin-binned. That was it for the Dragons, with the elastic Cowboys attack coping better one man down.    

Watch the Cowboys-Dragons highlights

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

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