By the Numbers: NRL Round 24
St George Illawarra's key man, the Bulldogs unearth a gem, injuries hamper the run home for title favourites, and things get interesting at the foot of the ladder.
While the Dragons were certainly boosted by the return of halfback Benji Marshall, halves partner Gareth Widdop is proving to be the Red V's key man on their run in to the finals. The five-eighth kept his side in the contest against the Panthers with two successful conversions and three penalty goals for no misses, while also scoring the match-sealing try, setting up another, and saving one at the other end. The England international also finished with a line break, line-break assist, and an impressive eight tackle breaks in a well-rounded performance on Thursday night.
No Lichaa? No worries. There was some concern that the Bulldogs would be lacking at dummy-half without their regular No.9 for the remainder of the season, but after biding his time in the NSW Cup, Damien Cook made the most of his opportunity in first grade to star in Canterbury-Bankstown's win over South Sydney. A game-high 49 tackles plus a try, try assist and line break made it a memorable night for Cook, who could just be the ace up Des Hasler's sleeve as the Dogs look to jostle for the best-possible spot in the top eight.
Things weren't looking great for the Cowboys early on in their match against the Warriors. Trailing 16-0 after 12 minutes at Mt Smart Stadium, the visitors needed to respond. They did so, running in 50 unanswered points to finish comfortable winners, a feat even more remarkable considering they were without the services of State of Origin representatives James Tamou and Michael Morgan for the majority of the contest.
Tamou (neck, 15 minutes) and Morgan (ankle, 28 minutes) weren't the only players to succumb to injury on Saturday night. In the same game, Warriors prop Jacob Lillyman (cheekbone) was out of the match after coming off second best in a collision with Ethan Lowe straight from the kick-off. Later that night, Roosters Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (ACL, 12 minutes) and Mitchell Pearce (knee, 17 minutes) were also forced from the field against the Broncos. Combined, these five high-profile players only spent 74 minutes out on the field, and unfortunately look set to spend plenty of time on the sidelines for the foreseeable future.
Whoever said outside backs don't get through the hard work clearly didn't tell Trent Robinson's side. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck continues to amaze in 2015, earning a fair few mentions in By the Numbers this season. While he was again spectacular with ball in hand, racking up 331 metres, the rest of the Tricolours' back five also deserve praise. Daniel Tupou (151m), Michael Jennings (116m), Blake Ferguson (201m) and Brendan Elliot (121m) all cracked the 100-metre mark, with the five players combining for 922 metres, almost half of the side's total 2080 metres for the match.
The race to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon heated up on the weekend, with Gold Coast, Parramatta and Newcastle all claiming important victories to distance themselves from a last-place finish. Wests Tigers now sit in outright 16th, but as a club that has never finished at the bottom of the ladder Jason Taylor's outfit will be doing everything possible to avoid an unwanted piece of history with matches against the Warriors and Dragons to come.