Eight games, eight moments: Round 26
Rabbitohs 18 def. Knights 6
The Moment: With a howling wind at their backs Michael Maguire’s bunnies would have felt more than a few nerves heading to halftime with just a six-point buffer. The game developed into a territorial grind in the opening 20 minutes of the second stanza before Souths breathed a huge sigh of relief when five-eighth John Sutton burrowed over from dummy-half on the hour for the 12-point cushion they would rest on until fulltime. Sutton was a standout as the Rabbitohs secured third spot and a showdown with the Melbourne Storm on Saturday.
It looked like the game plan was for him to shoulder more of the workload in the halves: he took the Steeden 51 times compared with halfback Adam Reynolds’ 38 touches. Sutton responded with a try, try assist, line-break plus six tackle-breaks. Meanwhile, what’s with Phil Gould’s constant belittling of officials? It’s especially galling given the amount of stuff he misses himself – like Rabbitohs centre Matt King rolling the ball underneath his foot for Greg Inglis to score in the 18th minute (go on, have a look at the Smart Replay). How did you miss that, Phil?
Broncos 19 def. Panthers 12
The Moment: Alex Glenn’s try off a Corey Norman short ball with four minutes remaining ensured Brisbane would participate in this week’s playoffs – but it was the sight of Justin Hodges rampaging down the right edge and delivering for Peter Wallace to score in the 45th minute that really would have warmed the hearts of the home fans as they enter sudden death.
The timing of the try was crucial, given Brisbane trailed by six points and needed to make a statement early in the second section. Hodges received a lovely cutout pass from Wallace on halfway and deployed his awesome right-foot step to crunch through the Panthers’ fringe then motor 40 metres before laying it on a plate for his halfback. Hodges made a game-high nine tackle-breaks; they’ll need all this and more if they are to push deep into September.
Sea Eagles 24 def. Titans 16
The Moment: Manly do this too often for it to be a fluke: as the halftime siren sounded co-captain Jamie Lyon hooked a kick from the right sideline towards the goal posts, with five-eighth Kieran Foran swooping to score and gift the Sea Eagles an 18-4 lead and shore up their spot in the top four. Flash back to Round 25 last season and it was Lyon and Foran who combined in exactly the same fashion to dumbfound the Storm at Brookvale Oval (see the Smart Replay).
But Foran’s try assist off his boot to open Manly’s scoring against the Titans was even more impressive – he delivered a precision banana kick off the outside of his right foot for a flying Brett Stewart to score underneath the posts. We wonder whether this kicking display was a deliberate way of messing with Ben Barba’s head, given their likely 1 v 4 match-up (now confirmed) heading into this game.
Storm 26 def. Wests Tigers 6
The Moment: A 16-point second-half shut-out from the Storm ran the red line through the Tigers’ 2012 season, with unlikely try-scorer Bryan Norrie delivering the knock-out blow in the 57th minute. The prop crossed for just his second four-pointer of the season after some sublime lead-up play from attacking linchpins Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater, the fullback darting through a streak of Tigers to bat back Cronk’s bomb with Norrie showing honey-like hands to snare the spoils.
The post-mortems on the Tigers have begun in earnest: our take is they had no chance given the chopping and changing within their spine – six players wore the No.6 all year, while four players donned the fullback and hooker jerseys respectively. That left Benji Marshall with too much to achieve on his own – although didn’t he give it a red-hot go? Marshall finished the year with more try assists than any player in the NRL (36). Next best was Cronk with 30.
Bulldogs 42 def. Roosters 10
The Moment: Hard to go past halfback Kris Keating’s try for a 24-10 lead just two minutes into the second stanza – the culmination of a devastating attacking raid initiated on halfway that comprised offloads from four different players (little wonder Canterbury are ‘top dogs’ for offloads in 2012, averaging 12.7 per game). Prop Sam Kasiano got the (wrecking) ball rolling near halfway, popping an overhead pass to James Graham who sent Frank Pritchard away. Frankie turned the Steeden inside to Josh Reynolds, who offloaded to Ben Barba who offloaded to Keating who scored just his second try of the season.
Meanwhile Barba’s try in the 53rd minute, supporting Josh Reynolds’ arrogantly skillful cross-field lob under the goalposts, was notable in that it elevated Barba to 21 tries for the year – a mark Cowboys winger Ashley Graham would later hit with a double against the Sharks to leave the pair equal top try-scorers for the season (the second year in a row Barba has had to share the silverware after tying with Nathan Merritt in 2011). And special mention to rookie Josh Jackson’s hat-track – he looks a player of particular promise.
Cowboys 36 def. Sharks 22
The Moment: Such was the Cowboys’ dominance that they still found plenty of ways to penetrate the home team’s defensive line despite Cronulla showing great fortitude to miss only 18 tackles throughout the 80 minutes. However, it was a glaring misread on the try-line that cost the Shire boys their chance at a home semi-final. Paul Gallen’s steamrolling try shortly after halftime pulled them to within two points of the visitors but the captain’s good work was painted over when James Segeyaro schemed his way across from dummy-half on a first tackle play for the simplest of four-pointers.
Meanwhile Ben Pomeroy became the test case for the ARLC’s tough crackdown on shoulder charges on the eve of the Finals Series when he skittled Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston inside the final five minutes of play. It will be an anxious wait for coach Shane Flanagan, with Pomeroy set to be referred straight to the judiciary.
Raiders 42 def. Warriors 22
The Moment: We’re not sure what David Furner dished out to the Raiders in the dressing sheds after a lethargic first 40 minutes saw them trail 22-6 at halftime, but boy did it have the desired effect. That was quite a start to give the Warriors at home, especially given their expected bounce-back from some embarrassing efforts over the past two months. The Green Machine simply bloomed the deeper the second 40 went, with the Warriors wilting at an equivalent rate.
Canberra’s best moment was the one that nudged them ahead for the first time in the 65th minute, with Sandor Earl fielding a Shaun Berrigan bomb, then flicking it out the back for Reece Robinson to power over.
Dragons 29 def. Eels 8
The Moment: All hopes of a fairytale farewell for retiring Eels stars Nathan Hindmarsh and Luke Burt before a season record 45,000-crowd were snuffed out in the 44th minute when Dragons five-eighth Jamie Soward picked up the dregs of a broken-down left-side sweep and raced 95 metres to score against the run of play. Had the Eels scored and Burt kicked the conversion they would have taken a four-point lead; instead they were left to trudge back down to their goal line and contemplate a six-point deficit.
But there were really only two moments that mattered here. The first came in the 62nd minute, with Dragons skipper Ben Hornby jinking over for a try in his final NRL game. And then the piece de resistance, with Nathan Hindmarsh rejecting the rubber kicking tee from a bemused Parramatta ball boy, calling for some sand instead, fashioning a mound and banging over his first ever penalty goal cool as you like.
• The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.