Record-breaking comebacks and stunning upsets made for a baffling Round 10 of the NRL premiership, shaking up the competition ladder and leaving tip sheets in tatters.
In his weekly video chat for Commentary Box Sports, ANDREW MARMONT pinpoints the top three things that caught his eye during a wild weekend of rugby league.
COWBOYS 30 d. BULLDOGS 14 @ ANZ Stadium
It’s back to the drawing board for Des after the lethargic and disjointed Bulldogs’ woeful 30-14 loss to a Thurston-less Cowboys outfit in Sydney.
THE MATCH: A bright start by the Bulldogs was followed by a contentious no-try ruling when decoy runner Josh Jackson barely grazed Cowboys defender Ray Thompson, which saw the Bunker put up the red light and deny Kerrod Holland.
Michael Morgan’s pinpoint cross-field kick produced the first try after six minutes as Kyle Feldt dotted down, and an avalanche of penalties stymied the Bulldogs’ chances of working their way into the contest.
Morgan scored a neat solo try, before Coen Hess pounced on a deflected kick to give the visitors an imposing 18-0 halftime lead. Hess scored again in almost identical fashion at the 48-minute mark after Brett Morris fumbled a grubber.
— TAB (@tabcomau) May 11, 2017
The seemingly disinterested Dogs clicked into gear with Holland scoring twice either side of Thompson’s sin-binning and producing a brilliant flick pass for Danny Fulalo to finish off a long-range movement.
Their lead cut to 10 points with 10 minutes left, the Cowboys put the game to bed in fitting fashion: another Morgan kick the Bulldogs failed to combat, with captain Gavin Cooper going in to score.
The absence of Josh Reynolds is an easy excuse for the Bulldogs, but they managed to pull off their most impressive win of the season after the pugnacious pivot hobbled off in Round 9; this performance was the antithesis of the brave defeat of the Raiders.
THE MAN: Michael Morgan had been criticised for his form in Johnathan Thurston’s recent absence, to the extent that his place as Australia’s and Queensland’s bench utility was brought into question. But he took charge on Thursday night, coming up with four try-assists with his dangerous short kicking game and scoring the Cowboys’ other try himself, a slick individual effort. If Thurston misses Origin I, Morgan has to be a front-runner to get the Maroons’ No.6 jumper.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) May 11, 2017
THE MOMENT: In a disappointingly drab encounter, Bulldogs back-rower Josh Jackson briefly ignited things with his punishing hit on Cowboys centre Justin O’Neill – one of the most spectacular we’ve seen in a 2017 premiership unusually short on bell-ringers.
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.
— Mark Geyer (@markMGgeyer) May 12, 2017
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.
— FOX SPORTS NRL (@FOXNRLLive) May 12, 2017
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.
— Sam Burgess (@SamBurgess8) May 12, 2017
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.
— Hamish Neal (@hamishneal) May 12, 2017
PANTHERS 36 d. WARRIORS 28 @ Pepper Stadium
In a match that was originally slated for Christchurch, the foot of the Blue Mountains bore witnessed to one of the most spectacular turnarounds in premiership history – and one that could prove season-defining for both clubs.
THE MATCH: The Warriors were fast out of the blocks, scoring first through Kieran Foran on a helter-skelter fifth-tackle play. Panthers centre Waqa Blake earned a sin-bin stint after running down David Fusitu’a but hanging on in the tackle, and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Ryan Hoffman ran in four-pointers while their opponents were a man short.
Isaah Yeo put the hosts on the board in the 25th minute, before Nicoll-Klokstad bagged his second from a Foran grubber and Fusitu’a nabbed a 90-metre intercept try on the stroke of halftime for a commanding 28-6 lead.
But the change in both sides after halftime was palpable. The Panthers came out firing and the Warriors looked shell-shocked, despite their 22-point advantage. In an insane 12-minute flurry, Yeo, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Blake and Matt Moylan scored, giving the Panthers a 30-28 lead after 59 minutes.
The Warriors belatedly stopped the avalanche of points, but they couldn’t muster any momentum and never looked like finding a reply. The Panthers sealed the win – which landed in equal-10th on the list of all-time comebacks – via a long-range try finished off by Tyrone Peachey in the 77th minute.
The emotion-charged win snapped a five-match losing streak for the Panthers, who can use the result as a platform to kick-start their campaign. The Warriors, reeling from the worst collapse in the club’s history, must hit back immediately at bogey venue Hamilton against bogey team St George Illawarra to put this sorry episode behind them.
THE MAN: Like he did in the Panthers’ second-half comeback against the Broncos in Round 9, Matt Moylan led his under-pressure side’s charge with a manically energetic performance. The Warriors couldn’t combat the Panthers’ second-phase, which Moylan was largely responsible for, while the skipper finished with a team-high 209 metres from 22 carries on top of his chief playmaker duties and a try. The tough little fullback made a compelling Origin case.
THE MOMENT: When the whistle blew to start the second half. So dominant in the opening 40, the Warriors had nothing after the break and when absolutely steamrolled in every department. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck marked his 100th game with the worst display of his career, making a meal of a string of situations at the back. The Panthers were brilliant – especially considering how woeful they’d been in the first half and the previous five weeks – but they were aided no end by their guests’ mental frailties.
TITANS 38 d. STORM 36 @ Suncorp Stadium
Gold Coast pulled off one of the greatest wins in its 11-season existence as Melbourne created a piece of unwanted history.
THE MATCH: After Ryan James scored first for the Titans in the 16th minute, the Storm clicked into gear with a three-try flurry, Billy Slater opening their account and Cooper Cronk going over twice all in the space of eight minutes.
The Titans rallied, however, with Leivaha Pulu and Anthony Don crossing before halftime to cut the deficit to just two points. The ‘away’ team retained the momentum early in the second half as Konrad Hurrell (45th minute) and Chris McQueen (55th) pushed them out to a 28-16 advantage.
The Storm again regained the ascendancy through a barrage of tries, with Will Chambers (64th minute), Joe Stimson (67th) and Cheyse Blair (70th) seemingly sealing another win for the NRL front-runners at 36-28.
But Tyrone Roberts’ 74th-minute try gave the Titans a big sniff, before Hurrell finished off a sensational match-winner with less than three minutes to go. The Storm’s points tally equalled the premiership record for the highest score by a losing side.
The post-match focus was rightfully on the courageous Titans though, after the underdogs lost Jarryd Hayne (leg), Ryan Simpkins (knee) and Dan Sarginson (arm) to injury.
THE MAN: Konrad Hurrell’s consistently dynamic form for the Titans is a damning indictment on the Warriors; those waiting for him to fail on the holiday strip are being continually left with egg on their faces. On top of 143 metres from 14 runs – more than any other back on the field – Hurrell’s rare combination of power and subtle skill was on full display as he scored a brilliant second-half double, including the winning try.
THE MOMENT: A pinpoint cross-field kick from Kane Elgey, a bat-back from the underrated Anthony Don and a herculean effort from Hurrell to plant the down – there won’t be too many more memorable late match-winners scored in 2017.
BRONCOS 24 d. SEA EAGLES 14 @ Suncorp Stadium
Brisbane completed a crazy trio of Super Saturday turnarounds in another game of two halves at Suncorp Stadium, leaving Manly with a lost opportunity and a badly injured superstar.
THE MATCH: Tom Trbojevic needed just two minutes to put the Sea Eagles on the scoreboard, before Apisai Koroisau showed raw determination to score despite the attention of several Broncos defenders.
Jorge Taufua made it 14-0 after just nine minutes when he crossed in the corner from a suspect last pass, and despite holding that lead until the break, that would be the last impression Manly made on the scoresheet.
The Broncos’ attack was woefully disjointed in the opening 40, but just three minutes after the resumption Anthony Milford finished off superb work from Kodi Nikorima and Korbin Sims to open their account.
Trbojevic failed to clean up a bomb in the 64th minute to allow Corey Oates to score, while the fullback was forced off the field with a serious injury following the try. Taufua then came up with a kick-return blunder on Manly’s next possession that saw Nikorima scamper away for the go-ahead try.
The Sea Eagles were spent, and Oates finished them off with his second try in the 75th minute.
THE MAN: It won’t happen, but Kodi Nikorima is making a compelling case to remain in the Broncos’ No.7 jumper when Ben Hunt returns from injury. He served up a brilliant pass for Sims in the lead-up to their first try, showed great presence of mind to run away for a four-pointer of his own, and finished with 129 running metres and 23 tackles. A class act.
THE MOMENT: Besides producing a crucial error in the context of the game, Tom Trbojevic’s awkward fall in attempting to catch a high-bouncing ball may have rubbed the boom No.1 out for the rest of the season. A near-certainty to debut for NSW in a few weeks’ time, ‘Turbo’s’ absence would be a crippling blow to the Sea Eagles’ 2017 campaign.
KNIGHTS 34 d. RAIDERS 20 @ McDonald Jones Stadium
Last-placed Newcastle powered to a stirring 14-point victory on Sunday, consigning highly-fancied Canberra to its third straight loss.
THE MATCH: Wingers Nathan Ross and Nick Cotric traded tries inside the first 10 minutes, but it was a stunning solo effort by Knights second-rower and captain Sione Mata’utia in the 16th minute that gave the home side a 10-8 halftime lead.
Elliot Whitehead crossed to put the Raiders back in front just four minutes after the resumption, before a three-try rush in the space of 10 minutes – with Joe Wardle, and Sione and Peter Mata’utia dotting down – put the Knights in a match-winning position at 28-14.
The Raiders kept the flame flickering via Cotric’s second try in the 75th minute, but the Knights sealed a richly deserved win when Brock Lamb scored from a kick in the dying stages.
THE MAN: Besides his two crucial tries, Sione Mata’utia topped the Knights’ tackle count with 41 and racked up 10 carries. His progression from 18-year-old Kangaroos winger to tough and industrious second-rower at just 20 has been quite remarkable.
THE MOMENT: Joey Leilua dashed his NSW Origin hopes with a bad fumble on his own line just before the hour mark, which allowed Samoa teammate Sione Mata’utia to pounce and put the Knights eight points in front. They never looked back.
ROOSTERS 48 d. EELS 10
Sydney Roosters flexed their muscle with an eight-tries-to-two demolition of a shockingly outclassed Parramatta Eels side.
THE MATCH: The Roosters made their intentions clear early as recalled centre Latrell Mitchell and hooker Jake Friend scored inside the first 10 minutes. Clint Gutherson pegged one back for the Eels, but Tricolours wingers Daniel Tupou and Blake Ferguson went in before the break to set up a 28-4 lead.
Tupou virtually sealed the result four minutes after the resumption with his second try, before a superb solo effort from Michael Jennings – whose break set up Gutherson’s try – gave the Eels brief respite.
The Roosters put their foot on the Eels’ throat in the final 14 minutes, courtesy of two brilliant finishes from Ferguson either side of his bat-back assist for Joseph Manu to score.
THE MAN: Ferguson removed any doubt as to whether he will be retained in Laurie Daley side for the series opener, producing easily his best club performance of the year on the back of a strong Anzac Test showing. A hat-trick and 179 metres from 19 runs represented an excellent afternoon’s work from the strapping three-quarter.
THE MOMENT: A dreadful loss for the Eels was compounded by a leg injury to linchpin Corey Norman, who limped off 10 minutes into the second half. Norman was looming as a possible replacement for Johnathan Thurston if the Queensland champion is ruled out of Origin I, while the Eels’ prospects of moving up the ladder during their halfback’s potential absence are extremely dire.