Sunday 25 February 2018 / 06:40 AM


SHARKS 18 d. DRAGONS 14 @ UOW Jubilee Oval

Cronulla grinded out an important victory with the help of a couple of controversial non-calls to cement a top-four spot, but depleted St George Illawarra lost few admirers in a gutsy effort.

THE MATCH: Tim Lafai put the Dragons on the board with a 21st-minute penalty after a late shoulder-charge from Sharks prop Matt Prior, but the visitors crossed the stripe first through centre Ricky Leutele.

Wade Graham muffed the kick-off, however, and the Saints – missing key men Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan through injury – hit straight back with a try to NSW Origin hopeful Paul Vaughan, which saw the hosts head into the break 8-6 in front.

Leutele restored the Sharks’ lead in the 51st minute with a brilliant – but conspicuously forward – pass for winger Sosaia Feki. But the Saints reclaimed the advantage 10 minutes later as Vaughan sent front-row partner Russell Packer over.

The defending premiers found the match-winner in contentious and extraordinary circumstances, with a Wade Graham knock-on at the play-the-ball followed up by a Chad Townsend Hail Mary pass and then a one-handed scoop off the ground from Leutele for Feki to score his second with nine minutes to go.

THE MAN: With a game-high 19 runs for 188 metres, a powerhouse try and a brilliant assist, and 26 tackles, Paul Vaughan put in a compelling Blues audition in a losing effort. The ex-Raider combines tremendous work-rate with a bit of footwork, skill and X-factor – and he would provide far more to the NSW cause than mooted front-row contenders Shannon Boyd, Junior Paulo and Jordan McLean.

THE MOMENT: After Leutele’s forward pass wasn’t picked up, the Dragons deserved some rub of the green. But it wasn’t forthcoming, with Wade Graham fumbling at the play-the-ball on the Saints’ line. It went undetected and the Sharks conjured up a bizarre winning try.

RABBITOHS 28 d. TIGERS 8 @ ANZ Stadium

South Sydney raised hopes of a mid-season revival with a comprehensive win, while the woeful Wests Tigers joined Newcastle as the only sides that look incapable of playing finals football in 2017.

THE MATCH: Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire’s backline reshuffle paid immediate dividends, with five-eighth-turned-fullback Cody Walker slicing through and sending retrenched winger Alex Johnston over in the 12th minute.

Tigers forward Ava Seumanufagai then took a swipe at his former skipper Robbie Farah to earn 10 minutes in the bin, during which time the Rabbitohs added a barnstorming Sam Burgess try.

Souths landed a critical blow just before the break when back-rower Angus Crichton charged 35 metres for a try, giving his side a 16-2 lead.

Elijah Taylor fanned the flames of a potential Tigers comeback in the 45th minute when he scooped up a Farah fumble in front of the Rabbitohs’ posts and dived in for their first try, but the red-and-greens snuffed out the recovery just three minutes later when the Walker-Johnston combination produced the latter’s second try.

Farah helped seal a satisfying win over his former club – and kept his name in the Origin mix – when he put on a short ball for Burgess to complete a double in the 52nd minute.

THE MAN: Sam Burgess was an absolute beast, producing the sort of performance that saw him widely regarded as the game’s best forward prior to his ill-fated code switch. Besides his two tries, the Brit bomber made 226 metres from 27 runs and reeled off 35 tackles in a dominant 69-minute display.

THE MOMENT: Seumanufagai’s brain snap proved crucial, but Crichton’s stunning try in the shadows of halftime was a hammer blow to the Tigers’ chances. The ex-rugby union prodigy – making just his 17th NRL appearance – showed remarkable pace and a handy swerve to leave James Tedesco clutching at thin air.

[YouTube – NRL 2017]

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Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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