Monday Halfback: Epic comebacks

Melbourne's young stars should have closed out their top of the table clash with the Roosters at Adelaide Oval, but a series of poor decisions in the final 10 minutes cost them dearly in an epic encounter in front of 21,492 fans. 

The Storm made similar mistakes the week prior against the Cowboys, but on that occasion their young stars were able to rally to clinch the game in golden point. 

They weren't so lucky the second time around. 

For 70 minutes, the Storm were brilliant. No Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater, Will Chambers or Cam Smith, no worries. 

They led the Roosters by 14 points with 20 minutes remaining and still led by 12 points with nine minutes on the clock. 

It should have been enough, even against the second-placed Roosters, who were only missing NSW captain Boyd Cordner. 

Enter Michael Gordon and Mitchell Pearce.

The Roosters custodian kicked three clutch conversions, two from the left sideline and then one from just inside the right touchline after the full-time siren to keep his team in the contest. 

He gave the Roosters a chance with his pinpoint kicking and then Mitchell Pearce iced the game with a ridiculous field goal in golden point. 

Pearce, ever the proverbial NSW punching bag, stepped up from an impossible position and distance on the field to nail the golden field goal. 

He's the best halfback NSW has. It's not even close. 

The Roosters had worked down the right edge on the penultimate tackle in extra-time, giving Pearce an attempt from the wrong side of the field and 35 metres out. The only solace was that there was less than a minute remaining, meaning Pearce had nothing to lose by having a snap. 

It never looked like missing.

For the Storm's young crop of talent, it was a vital lesson in closing out a contest. One that might come back to haunt the rest of the competition in a few years' time when they finally get the keys to the Storm for real.

"You can't question their effort," a measured Craig Bellamy said in the aftermath of his side's dramatic loss. 

"I couldn't have asked for any extra effort, on the ball, off the ball, I'm really proud of that. But we didn't learn the lessons from last week and we've paid the price. 

"The effort wasn't the issue at all, just managing the last 10 minutes of the game was the issue. 

"We had a good lead with 10 minutes to go and made the same dumb mistakes. We need to learn and we didn't. That's really disappointing."

Spare a thought for the Knights

The Storm 'youngsters' were getting plenty of attention while their State of Origin stars were off-duty over the last fortnight – but their average age was still almost a year older than the Newcastle side which gave up an 18-point lead against the Dragons on Sunday. The Storm side also had 160 more NRL games experience than the Novocastrian team coached by Nathan Brown.

 

The Knights were taught their own harsh lesson about competing in the NRL Telstra Premiership after racing in 28 points in the first half to have a commanding 18 point buffer heading into the break. 

It was the eighth time this season the Knights have led and then been run down. While they showed plenty of promise, as they have done in so many games throughout 2017, ultimately they would crumble to their most painful loss of the season.

"That was the best 30 minutes we've play since I've been here," Nathan Brown said immediately after the game about his team's 28 unanswered points.

"That was as good as I've seen or been involved in."

But then, the second half started and the young Knights couldn't stop the rot once the Dragons gained momentum.

"We've been beaten up over the last 18 months, but that is about as bad as I've seen," Brown continued.

"Physically, mentally, we are just not good enough or strong enough, we can't play 80 minutes, we can't play 60 minutes at the moment."

Johnathan who?

The Cowboys got out of jail against the Panthers thanks to a freakish leap and overhead catch from Kyle Feldt and then a sideline conversion from 'back-up' kicker Ethan Lowe to steal victory. It never looked like missing and was eerily similar to the one Johnathan Thurston kicked in Origin II. 

Perhaps it was rugby league paying back the favour, after the Panthers had gotten out of jail in their last start against the Raiders, scoring two tries in the final three minutes. 

 

World Cup for Marshall?

Why not?

Benji Marshall is only 32 years-old. This column says 'only' because other stars still playing at the highest level include Cam Smith and Billy Slater (both 34) and Cooper Cronk (33). Johnathan Thurston is also 34 (though he is out for the season). 

Marshall was instrumental in the Broncos' win over the Raiders and showed he is not a spent force and still has plenty to offer, easily justifying Wayne Bennett's decision to sign him and then to start him in the halves with Ben Hunt on the bench.

He's surely a valuable asset in a 24-man squad at a World Cup, whether he can push for a starting spot would be up for debate, but he would not look out of place back in the representative arena.

Original complaint

Is there anything more predictable, boring and mundane than blaming the referees for a result? In a world dominated by social media and short attention spans, unaccountability has become the default position. 

It's predictable, and it is tiresome. 

Yes, referees need to be held accountable, and yes, they make mistakes, but the default position for many fans and critics is to blame the referees for a loss, rather than the team coming up with the errors, poor decisions and missed tackles. 

Picking out individual mistakes by a referee out of context serves little purpose other than to blindly ignore the shortcomings of a team's performance. 

Quote of the week

During his half-time interview after scoring a hat-trick to give the Knights a 28-10 lead, Newcastle cult hero Nathan 'Rossdog' Ross came up with this gem. 

"I'm like an untalented Clint Gutherson."