Panthers players celebrate their win over the Broncos in Round 3.

Monday Morning Halfback: Round 3

There is arguably no more important time in the NRL right now than the five minutes leading into half-time. With the reduced interchange, the evenness of the competition and the importance of momentum, the period can be match-changing.

Send in the nightwatchmen.

The Raiders, Broncos and Wests Tigers were all comfortably leading their Round 3 matches on Saturday night until conceding late tries in the first half - it changed everything.

All three teams were strong favourites and seemingly on their way to victory just before half-time.

The Raiders were cruising at 16-0 until a 39th minute try to Newcastle debutant Cory Denniss gave the Knights hope, arresting what had been one-way traffic. 

The Broncos had been similarly dominant leading 22-6 with the brilliant Anthony Milford pulling all the strings before a 40th minute try to Penrith back-rower Bryce Cartwright slashed the deficit to 10. 

Wests Tigers raced to a 10-0 lead and looked comfortable until a soft try to utility Daniel Mortimer diving from dummy-half on the stroke of half-time put the Titans right back in the contest. 

It is the rubber band theory. If teams can stay within touching distance long enough, they give themselves a chance. The Knights, Panthers and Titans all showed that if you can find a way to stay in the contest and stay committed to the task, momentum can swing pretty quickly the other way. 

In the opening game of the round, the Cowboys jumped out to an early lead against the Roosters and looked ready to run-up a cricket score with two quick tries scored with relative ease, but by the 35th minute mark, the Roosters had somehow clawed away the momentum and got themselves back in the arm-wrestle.

But one costly kick just before half-time ended any chance of a Roosters fight-back. 

In the 39th minute on fifth tackle, Jake Friend attempted a 40/20 and got it horribly wrong. It was an all-or-nothing play from the Roosters captain trying to inspire his team back into the contest. The mistake gave the Cowboys just enough time for three plays to score – and they did through Lachlan Coote – breaking the Roosters' resolve. 

While the reigning premiers went on with the demolition in the second-half - Friend's kick could have been a sliding door moment in the contest. 

Four games across the weekend all had pivotal moments in the final minutes of the first half. 

Milestone for the milestone men

When we watch and dissect the game from the comfort of our stadium chairs, the media box or across pub benches and lounge room couches, we often take for granted one of the fundamental pillars of rugby league. 

It's a tough sport.

Jarrod Mullen and Jason Nightingale both reached the 200 game milestone at the weekend and it's one we tend to take for granted, while Michael Ennis will run out for game 250 on Monday night against Manly.

The average career is just 43 NRL games.

Mullen became the 300th player to reach the 200 game milestone, after making his debut halfway through the 2005 season. This is his 12th year in the NRL and he has been a cornerstone of the Novacastrian side for seemingly that whole stretch of time. His current CEO Matt Gidley was playing alongside him in his first game, while other club legends Danny Buderus and Andrew Johns were also part of his maiden season.

Nightingale was the 301st player to play 200 matches, he has barely missed a game in nine seasons since making his debut in Round 8, 2007 and is often labelled 'one of the most underrated players in the game', but that has long since been a disservice to the Kiwi international. He is one of the most consistent players in the competition and fast approaching 100 tries in the NRL as well.

To reach 200 games is an amazing achievement and for both to do it as one-club players is all the more special. 

Then there is Michael Ennis who made his debut back in 2003. His career has spanned five clubs and 14 years. Starting as a lock forward and five-eighth at Newcastle, a utility at St George Illawarra, a halfback at Brisbane, he eventually settled as a mainstay in his now customary No.9 jersey at the Bulldogs and Sharks. 

The longevity, consistency and quality of his performance is incredible - his career winning percentage is just a tick under 60 per cent. 

Ennis will become just the 100th player to reach 250 first-grade games when he runs onto Brookvale Oval on Monday night. In a league that has been going since 1908, he is now in very elite company. 

 

All or nothing

When the Raiders were awarded a penalty in golden point extra-time the immediate thought was to take the shot at goal for a chance to win the game. Jarrod Croker is one of the game's best sharpshooters, it seems a logical thing to do. 

But the penalty was 50 metres out, even with the wind behind the Green Machine and someone of Crocker's goal-kicking class, it was a low-percentage play. 

Croker's attempt fell short and the Knights took possession. 

As we spoke about last week, hindsight is a killer. 

The percentage play was to kick for touch with the wind and set-up for a field goal in prime position. But there are no guarantees. You can't begrudge a definitive chance to win the game.