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.

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