Monday Morning Halfback: Record breakers
It started with one bad decision, one bad kick, one bad end to a set. In this competition, that's all it takes. One mistake.
One minute later, the Wests Tigers were huddled behind their own sticks watching the Dragons celebrate their second try of the afternoon.
The Wests Tigers started spritely on Sunday and looked in the contest despite conceding an early try, but a poor last-tackle kick while on the attack was taken in the in-goal by Jason Nightingale. Josh Dugan raced ahead and took the 20-metre tap, and the Tigers' contact in the first tackle was poor. Dugan bounced and fought his way into a dominant position – as he often does – and earned a quick play-the-ball.
One tackle later the Tigers were pinged for being offside – compounding their original error and gifting the Dragons a saloon passage up-field. And from the ensuing set, the Dragons made them pay the ultimate price.
Nightingale – who had just defused the kick at the opposite end of the field – crossed in the corner and when he completed his hat-trick just 15 minutes later the game was effectively over with the red jerseys totally dominant.
The Tigers never really looked likely to get back into the contest. When the competition is so tight, one bad play can be all it takes.
Jarrod Croker joins elite club
Jarrod Croker just keeps on hitting milestones. When he crossed for his 100th career try at the weekend – a magical moment in itself – he became just the fifth player to score a century of tries and also kick 500 goals. It's an exclusive club. Only Luke Burt, Ryan Girdler, Jamie Lyon and Hazem el Masri have achieved the feat.
The Canberra captain is the 67th first-grader to celebrate his 100th try and is currently sitting third on the Raiders' all-time try-scorers list, chasing club legends Brett Mullins (105) and Jason Croker (120).
At just 26 years of age, Croker is already the club's all-time leading point scorer and will play his 200th NRL game in the coming weeks. It is an absolutely incredible career he is putting together.
300 club – another one joins the list
Chris Heighington became the 26th player to reach the magical 300-game milestone – an unbelievable achievement for the hard working forward who won premierships with the Wests Tigers and Cronulla a decade apart.
The fact it was each club's maiden premiership will mean Heighington – a beloved character in the game – will always be held in high regard by the fans of the two clubs he has played and bled for.
Interestingly, before the year 2000 there were only four players on the illustrious 300-game list – Terry Lamb, Cliff Lyons, Paul Langmack and Geoff Gerard.
We've had 21 players added in just 17 years and there are a lot more coming.
A look at the list of 250 gamers reveals a similar story. Before the year 2000, there were 30 players, there are now 109. Seventy nine players have achieved the milestone since the turn of the century.
The 300 club though remains a very elite group of players and Heighington's achievement is an amazing feat.
THE 300 CLUB
355 Darren Lockyer: 1995-2011
350 Terry Lamb: 1980-1996
349 Steve Menzies: 1993-2008
347 Corey Parker: 2001-2016
339* Cameron Smith: 2002-2017*
336 Brad Fittler: 1989-2004
332 Cliff Lyons: 1985-1999
330 Nathan Hindmarsh: 1998-2012
328 Andrew Ettingshausen: 1983-2000
325 Geoff Gerard: 1974-1989
318 Jason Croker: 1991-2006
317 Hazem El Masri: 1996-2009
315 Paul Langmack: 1983-1999
315 Luke Priddis: 1997-2010
313 Steve Price: 1994-2009
313 Brent Kite: 2002-2015
312 Ruben Wiki: 1993-2008
309 Petero Civoniceva: 1998-2012
307 Brett Kimmorley: 1995-2010
305* Cooper Cronk: 2004-2017*
303 Anthony Watmough: 2002-2015
302 Anthony Minichiello: 2000-2014
301 Luke Ricketson: 1991-2005
300 Scott Prince: 1998-2013
300 John Morris: 2001-2014
300* Chris Heighington: 2003-2017*
Newcastle left to rue last set
The Newcastle Knights are already looking like a much better team in 2017 and are showing tremendous heart in their performances. When the Sharks led by 12 points in the second half, all signs pointed to the scor line blowing out. But the Knights refused to be intimidated by the reigning premiers on their own patch and incredibly found a way to get back in the contest.
The effort of the blue and red jerseys to hang in was unbelievable.
But as good sides do, the Sharks responded, clinically setting up and taking a field goal to James Maloney with three minutes remaining to save their blushes.
The Knights had one last chance to send the game into extra-time, but they were out on their feet. The Novocastrians had a scrum with one minute on the clock and needed to go the length of the field. They looked like they would get a long-range shot, despite being dominated in the first three tackles. On the fourth, still outside shooting distance, the ball inexplicably went to Trent Hodkinson and the halfback had no real choice but to go to the line and was hit in a heavy tackle on the 40-metre line and fumbled the ball.
Given their time over, the Knights would love to have played the last set differently to give themselves a chance, but it's not a position they have been familiar with in recent seasons.
Ultimately the Sharks defended the last set well, not allowing the Knights any real momentum to march up field. The premiers muscled up when they needed to most to close the game down. But the Knights were left to rue their last set, not giving their sharpshooter a shot at levelling the scores.
"[Cronulla's] game management was really strong. Sometimes our plays before our kicks were not the best plays that didn't allow us to get them into uncomfortable situations," coach Nathan Brown said.
"I wouldn't want to single anyone personally because I think everyone would agree all the players today give their heart and soul, but I'm sure when each individual looks at their game they'll all see something that if they did something smarter there, we might be on the winning side."
Tippin ain't easy
Hands up if you tipped the Bulldogs and Manly to start the round? Nope, me neither. In fact only one NRL.com tipster picked the Bulldogs against the Broncos and only one tipped Manly against the might of the Roosters. That's a grand total 2/36 correct from our resident experts. They recovered well to finish the round, but it just shows how unpredictable the NRL Telstra Premiership can be.