Sunday 17 December 2017 / 03:23 PM

NRL ROUND 1 WRAP

THURSDAY

BRISBANE BRONCOS 26 d. CRONULLA SHARKS 18 @ Southern Cross Group Stadium

The match: Brisbane produced the ideal start to their campaign on the road, grabbing an early lead that they would never relinquish to subdue defending premiers Cronulla on the NRL’s opening night.

The Broncos led 14-6 at halftime, with Darius Boyd laying on the first try of season 2017 for Jordan Kahu and James Roberts showing magnificent pace to latch onto a grubber either side of a sharp Sharks effort finished off by Gerard Beale.

The visitors seemed set to run away with it as Corey Oates zipped over in the corner for 20-6, but at the hour mark the Sharks had cut the deficit to just two after four-pointers to James Maloney and Ricky Leutele.

Brisbane looked to be running out of puff and had used their last interchange with 15 minutes to go, but Anthony Milford stopped the comeback in its tracks with a dazzling solo run from close to the try-line, restoring an eight-point lead.

The Broncos calmly closed out the match from that point, taking a very satisfying two-point haul back to Brisbane with them as they confront an incredibly tough draw to start 2017.

The man: Oh captain, my captain. New Broncos skipper Darius Boyd laid on the first try in each half with exquisite passes, his positional play at the back was brilliant, and his calmness and poise on attack and defence was invaluable. Milford, Kahu and Sam Thaiday were also great for the Broncos, while Lewis, Wade Graham and debutant hooker Jayden Brailey were the Sharks’ standouts.

The moment: The Broncos were limping towards the finish line and clinging to a two-point lead when a rushed last-tackle kick by Josh McGuire rebounded off Paul Gallen into the arms of an offside Jack Bird. The fortuitous repeat set that resulted allowed Milford to jink his way through for the match-sealer.

Brisbane Broncos 26 (Jordan Kahu, James Roberts, Corey Oates, Anthony Milford tries; Kahu 5 goals) d. Cronulla Sharks 18 (Gerard Beale, James Maloney, Ricky Leutele tries; Maloney 3 goals).

FRIDAY

MELBOURNE STORM 12 d. CANTERBURY BULLDOGS 6 @ Belmore Oval

Melbourne ended a six-match losing streak against Canterbury with a 12-6 victory in a gruelling and at-times fiery showdown in the wet at Belmore.

The match: The Storm set up their win with a blistering start, with Cheyse Blair and Suliasi Vunivalu running in tries in the first six minutes. Vunivalu’s try was remarkable, charging through to claim a Cooper Cronk bomb on the run near the Bulldogs’ line.

Tempers boiled over in the 20th minute courtesy of a melee, and the Bulldogs settled into their groove as Josh Reynolds finished off an excellent team try. But another brawl just before halftime resulted in Sam Kasiano and Will Chambers spending 10 minutes in the sin bin.

The rain tumbled down throughout the second half, hampering a clunky Canterbury attack further as Melbourne closed out the match with a typically gritty defensive display. The Storm were left to count the cost of the win, however, with Jesse Bromwich set to be sidelined with a dislocated thumb.

The man: It wasn’t an ideal night for wingers, but Josh Addo-Carr nevertheless produced an outstanding club debut for the Storm. The ex-Tigers flyer ran for a game-high 176 metres and made two line-breaks, easing Melbourne’s concerns about Marika Koroibete’s switch to rugby union.

The moment: There’s no love lost between these clubs – and it showed in their vigorous 37th-minute blow-up. Kasiano and Chambers were despatched for throwing punches, while Vunivalu was lucky not to follow them. But more importantly it stunted the Bulldogs’ momentum after it looked like they were starting to click.

Storm 12 (Cheyse Blair, Suliasi Vunivalu tries; Cameron Smith 2 goals) d. Bulldogs 6 (Josh Reynolds try; Kerrod Holland goal).

WESTS TIGERS 34 d. SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS

Wests Tigers made a blistering start to their 2017 campaign by sweeping aside a highly-fancied but injury-hit South Sydney side 34-18.

The match: The Rabbitohs scored first through Bryson Goodwin, but the Tigers quickly got on top by begin hungrier and playing more direct, with Ava Seumanufagai, James Tedesco and Chris Lawrence crossing before the 25-minute mark.

Greg Inglis, who suffered a knee injury during the first half but remained as a passenger on the wing, scored just before halftime when Cody Walker’s kick from a scrum win caught teenage wing debutant Moses Suli out.

But the Tigers extended their 10-point halftime lead with some sizzling attack, halves Mitchell Moses and Luke Brooks finishing off a couple of long-range beauties before Suli crossed to put the match out of reach at 34-8 with 23 minutes to go.

Goodwin becoming the first player to register a hat-trick in 2017 was scant consolation for the flat and disjointed Bunnies.

The man: Tedesco, Moses and Brooks were brilliant, while Aaron Woods, Lawrence and Elijah Taylor dominated their vaunted Souths counterparts. But it’s hard to go past workhorse winger David Nofoaluma, who made two line-breaks and 205 metres as he picked up where he left off in 2016. Origin material.

The moment: Any chance of a Souths fight-back in the second-half was stamped out in the Tigers’ first set after the resumption. Tedesco collected a kick near his own line, put Nofoaluma away, backed up his winger and sent Moses on a 60-metre run to the line.

Tigers 34 (Ava Seumanufagai, James Tedesco, Chris Lawrence, Mitchell Moses, Luke Brooks, Moses Suli tries; Moses 5 goals) d. Rabbitohs 18 (Bryson Goodwin 3, Greg Inglis tries; Goodwin goal).

SATURDAY

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 42 d. PENRITH PANTHERS 10 @ UOW Jubilee Oval

The supposedly toothless Dragons shattered most pundits’ and fans’ pre-season expectations by thrashing woeful title favourites the Panthers by seven tries to two.

The match: The Saints caught their much-hyped opponents off-guard when Joel Thompson crossed in just the fourth minute, and the home side leapt out to a 10-0 lead when the second-rower bagged his second.

The ragged Panthers looked to get on track via Waqa Blake’s brilliant finish in the corner at the half-hour mark, but Jack de Belin and Gareth Widdop dotted down either side of the break to make the possibility of a momentous upset a reality.

Tyrone Peachey’s 49th-minute try – cutting the deficit to 14 points – was the last shot the Panthers fired, with new Dragons hooker Cameron McInnes backing up some Josh Dugan magic to score, Widdop bagging his second and Thompson completing a hat-trick as the under-pressure joint venture enjoyed its finest hour in a couple of years.

For their part, the star-studded Panthers were pathetic, seemingly believing their own hype and failing to lay any sort of platform for their attacking guns in the club’s most insipid display in several seasons. But the visitors’ incompetence shouldn’t detract from St George Illawarra’s punishing display, which turned the 2017 NRL premiership on its head after half a round.

The man: The Dally M judges would have had a difficult time dishing out points to just three Dragons, such was the complete team performance they produced. Starting props Russell Packer and Paul Vaughan combined for 363 metres, Widdop had two try-assists to go with his brace, and the back-five were all superb – with Tim Lafai (one line-break, 155 metres) a notable standout after a dreadful 2016. But hat-trick hero Thompson deserved all the plaudits coming his way, running for 108 metres and making 26 tackles to go with his treble.

The moment: Among the competition’s very worst attacking sides of the last couple of seasons, it was the Showtime Dragons at Jubiliee Oval. But the highlight had to be Dugan’s kick-and-regather to set up McInnes’ try in the 54th minute, which took what little wind there was out of the Panthers’ saggy sails.

Dragons 42 (Joel Thompson 3, Gareth Widdop 2, Jack de Belin, Cameron McInnes tries; Widdop 7 goals) d. Panthers 10 (Waqa Blake, Tyrone Peachey tries; Nathan Cleary goal).

NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS 20 d. CANBERRA RAIDERS 16 in golden point @ 1300SMILES Stadium

We have a bona fide game-of-the-year contender already after the Cowboys and Raiders produced a finals-intensity classic in Townsville, capped off by one of the craziest golden-point finishes of all time.

The match: It was apparent from the outset we were in for a tense thriller, and the halftime scoreline was just 6-all as desperate defence trumped some sizzling attack. Late fullback replacement Zac Santo backed up a Josh Papalii break to open the scoring in the 12th minute, before Lachlan Coote responded for the hosts in the 29th.

Tempers began to fray in the second half, but despite the contentious sin-binning of Clay Priest – which opened up some delightful pun opportunities for Andrew Voss – the Raiders reclaimed the lead when the Bunker controversially award Joey Leilua a try after an apparent double-movement.

The Cowboys clicked into gear and seemingly put the game to bed with tries to Coen Hess and Javid Bowen to lead 16-10 with nine minutes left, but Leilua pounced on a grubber from Aidan Sezer, whose subsequent conversion sent the match into extra-time.

An absorbing clash received an extraordinary climax as Johnathan Thurston – chasing victory and his 2000th NRL point – grazed the underside of the crossbar with a field goal attempt. The ball somehow sat up in the in-goal, and Gavin Cooper chased through to dot down for the match-winner.

The man: There were standouts all over the park, but none better than Jason Taumalolo. The Cowboys lock made 22 runs for 295 metres, a line-break and 27 tackles. Matt Scott and Josh Papalii were others who would have pushed hard for Dally M points.

The moment: You won’t see a more remarkable moment in 2017 than the Cowboys’ freakish golden-point try, but the Raiders were narrowly denied a match-winner in the previous set by a forward-pass ruling. Jordan Rapana put Priest through a gap and backed up the prop to streak away, only to be called back for his original pass. There may be a judiciary case for the dynamic but hot-headed winger to answer after reacting poorly to the decision.

Cowboys 20 (Lachlan Coote, Coen Hess, Javid Bowen, Gavin Cooper* tries; Johnathan Thurston 2 goals) d. Raiders 16 (Joey Leilua 2, Zac Santo tries; Aidan Sezer 2 goals). *golden point try

SYDNEY ROOSTERS 32 d. GOLD COAST TITANS 18 @ Cbus Super Stadium

The Roosters emphatically lived up to the hype, while the Titans did the inverse in a mismatch on the Gold Coast.

The match: Sydney Roosters set up a dominant win with a ruthless first-half performance against the sleepy Titans, running in five tries to lead 26-0 at the break. New halves combination Mitchell Pearce and Luke Keary – who bagged two of the tries in the opening 40 – pulled the strings as if they’d played together for a decade, while the home side had no answer for powerhouse centre Latrell Mitchell.

The Titans stemmed the flow in the second stanza, Anthony Don notching a runaway try from a Roosters error before Kane Elgey and Jarryd Hayne scored to briefly raised hopes of a miracle comeback.

The gap had been bridged to eight points with 17 minutes to go, but the Roosters kept their cool, and Mitchell notched his hat-trick in the dying stages to close out the match.

The man: OK, so the comparisons are obvious and a bit tired, but fans suffering from Greg Inglis withdrawals for the next six months need only tune in to the Roosters throughout season 2017. The 19-year-old Mitchell, destined for fullback eventually like prototype Inglis, shapes as the most dangerous centre in the NRL this year and has to be firming for an Origin debut. Mitchell’s size, power and pace is a must for the Blues. He’ll be among the top tryscorers this year, and will provide a truckload of meat pies for his winger, Daniel Tupou.

The moment: Visions of premiership grandeur flashed before Roosters fans’ eyes as Luke Keary danced his way over for the first try after just eight minutes. The ex-Rabbitohs pivot was magnificent in his first outing in red, white and blue – the belated replacement for James Maloney the Roosters have been waiting for, and the perfect foil for Mitchell Pearce.

Roosters 32 (Latrell Mitchell 3, Luke Keary 2, Michael Gordon tries; Gordon 4 goals) d. Titans 18 (Anthony Don, Kane Elgey, Jarryd Hayne tries; Ashley Taylor 3 goals). 

SUNDAY

WARRIORS 26 d. NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 22 @ Mt Smart Stadium

It was typically nerve-jangling, but after seven straight Round 1 defeats, a win’s a win as far as the enigmatic Warriors are concerned.

The match: Warriors fans went on a familiar roller-coaster, while Knights supporters will have been buoyed by their unfancied dual wooden-spooners’ wholehearted effort. The visitors started far stronger, building an 8-0 lead before the sluggish Warriors got their act together.

And get their act together they did, running in four tries in the last 14 minutes of the opening half as Shaun Johnson and the Warriors’ outside backs found their brilliant best. David Fusitu’a bagged a hat-trick as the hosts kicked out to a 20-8 advantage at the break.

But after a promising start to the second half, the Warriors lost Simon Mannering and Issac Luke – and inexplicably dropped their bundle. The Knights scored three unanswered, soft tries to snatch a 22-20 lead in the 66th minute.

But just as another demoralising defeat loomed for the Auckland club, Ryan Hoffman reached out with seven minutes to go, and the Warriors skittishly clinched two of their more valuable competition points of recent seasons.

The Knights collected something of a moral victory after going into the match as easily the biggest outsiders of Round 1, and on the strength of that performance they will win many more games than their 2016 tally of one.

The man: Every Warriors player has got plenty of improvement left in them – and Mannering was a cert for man-of-the-match honours before his unscheduled exit nine minutes into the second half – but Roger Tuivasa-Sheck stood up in his initial first-grade game as captain. He made a game-high 20 runs and 243 metres, including the vital line-break from a kick-return that eventually led to the match-winner.

The moment: Hoffman made a dreadful error inside the Warriors’ half to pile pressure on his side, but minutes later the deposed skipper was the hero, running off young five-eighth Ata Hingano and showing outstanding strength and composure to muscle his way over for the try that saved the Warriors’ bacon.

Warriors 26 (David Fusitu’a 3, Solomone Kata, Ryan Hoffman tries; Shaun Johnson 2, Issac Luke goals) d. Knights 22 (Nathan Ross 2, Peter Mata’utia, Jack Stockwell tries; Trent Hodkinson 2 goals).

PARRAMATTA EELS 20 d. MANLY SEA EAGLES 12 @ Lottoland

Parramatta picked up where they left off in 2016, but clearly relished the opportunity to start with a clean slate as they subdued Manly by eight points in a tough Sunday afternoon showdown.

The match: The Sea Eagles were out of the blocks quickly through debutant centre Brian Kelly, who crossed in the seventh minute. But Corey Norman responded swiftly for the Eels with a four-pointer, before producing an incredible 40/20 in the lead-up to Bevan French’s 26th-minute try.

Leading 14-6 at the break, the blue-and-golds continued to dominate possession and territory, and a 49th-minute try to Clint Gutherson proved decisive in a grinding second stanza.

Another penalty goal from Gutherson gave the visitors more breathing space, and Manly recruit Blake Green’s try with three minutes to go was pure consolation.

The man: In his first NRL game since being banned for off-field indiscretions last year, Corey Norman was an absolute whiz for the victorious Eels. The halfback – rated by many as the Dally M favourite – scored a kick-and-chase try, came up with the most miraculous 40/20 you could hope to see in the lead-up to the second, and steered his side around the park brilliantly.

The moment: Manu Ma’u’s offload to send French over was special, illustrating the all-round skill and dynamic impact the Eels have throughout their team sheet. Controversial winger Semi Radradra’s chase-down of rookie Kelly was an outstanding sign for the Parramatta, too.

Eels 20 (Corey Norman, Bevan French, Clint Gutherson tries; Gutherson 4 goals) d. Titans 12 (Brian Kelly, Blake Green tries; Dylan Walker 2 goals).

[YouTube – Sports Tube]

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About the author

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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