The battle for top try-scorer heats up, Newcastle's silver lining, the Broncos end the Bulldogs' streak, and the Sea Eagles' mid-season revival. These are the key numbers and statistics that defined Round 18 of the 2015 NRL Telstra Premiership season.
Much of the talk from Friday night's game between Canberra and Newcastle centred around in-form Raiders five-eighth Blake Austin, who stole the show by scoring the first three tries of the match within the opening 16 minutes of the contest to take his season try-scoring tally to 13. Less than 24 hours later, Roosters winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall crossed for two tries of his own in the Roosters' win over Penrith, also bringing up 13 tries for the season. Both men sit behind Titans speedster James Roberts (14), Canterbury-Bankstown's Curtis Rona (16) and Parramatta's Fijian flyer Semi Radradra (16) on the top try-scorers list.
While they were unable to leave the nation's capital with the two competition points, the struggling Knights were still able to amass some surprisingly impressive numbers. Every player in the starting side ran for over 100 metres, with the exception of both halves (Jarrod Mullen and Tyrone Roberts) starting hooker Tyler Randell, and lock Pat Vaivai (who went close with 99 metres). Interchange forward David Fa'alogo also chipped in with 109 metres from the bench. The Knights enjoyed 59 per cent of possession in the contest, yet couldn't get the better of a resolute Canberra defence.
Prior to Saturday night's loss to the Broncos, the Bulldogs under coach Des Hasler were undefeated in games played immediately after an Origin fixture, winning seven from seven since 2012. However Wayne Bennett's Broncos had other ideas and ended that streak, with the Brisbane side sitting pretty in outright first on the Telstra Premiership ladder after successfully negotiating the notoriously tricky representative period.
We're running out of superlatives to describe Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson, who is currently in the midst of an incredible purple patch. He ran for 213 metres against the Storm, also producing a try, a try assist, eight tackle busts, two line breaks, and two line-break assists. With such numbers comes equally as impressive returns in NRL Fantasy, with the Kiwi playmaker averaging an astonishing 96 from his last three appearances.
The Dragons' form slump has coincided with a growing injury list, with the club unable to call on the services of 10 players against the Sharks in Round 18. Trent Merrin (suspension) and Josh Dugan were unable to return from Origin duty, while Jack de Belin, Dylan Farrell, Tyson Frizell, Kiti Glymin, Benji Marshall, Eto Nabuli, Rory O'Brien and Joel Thompson were all unable to take to the field on Sunday afternoon. While it has provided coach Paul McGregor a chance to give some of his younger squad members some invaluable first grade experience, he'll need his more senior players back on deck if the Red V are to arrest their alarming slide.
The Sea Eagles drew level with the Titans on 16 competition points following their dominant win on the Gold Coast on Monday night. Manly now sit in 13th position, four points behind the sixth-placed Storm and the Dragons, Bulldogs, and Sharks, who are all tied on 20 points, in and around the bottom half of the top eight. After a slow start, the Sea Eagles are finally able to field the majority of their stars, and are primed for a late-season tilt at another finals appearance.