Tuesday 12 December 2017 / 09:42 AM

NRL ROUND 9 WRAP

THURSDAY

BRONCOS 32 d. PANTHERS 18 @ Suncorp Stadium

Brisbane surged to a fourth straight win on the back of a blistering first-half display against a woeful Penrith, but a late fadeout was compounded by James Roberts’ departure with a knee injury in the dying minutes.

THE MATCH: After a contentious no-try ruling against the Panthers early on, Broncos centre Roberts made a searing break from an 11th-minute scrum before combining with Jordan Kahu to set up Kodi Nikorima for the first try.

Seven minutes later, a Panthers handling error allowed Roberts to embark on a breath-taking 80-metre run to the line for 10-0.

The Panthers’ attempts to gain traction came undone through impatient attack, before Kahu scored a brilliant try from a bomb on the half-hour mark and Tautau Moga finished off a stunning 70-metre movement just three tackles after the kick-off.

Korbin Sims made it 28-0 when he steamed over under the posts 10 minutes into the second half, but the visitors’ threadbare defence tightened up from that point.

Trent Merrin belated got the Panthers off the mark in the 65th minute, and subsequent tries to an on-fire Matt Moylan (68th minute) and Reagan Campbell-Gillard (72nd) suddenly set up a nerve-jangling finish at 28-18.

The Broncos held their nerve to shut down the Panthers’ late raids and iced the win with a try on the buzzer to Matt Gillett from a clever blindside scrum move, but they now wait on tenterhooks for the prognosis on Roberts’ knee injury.

Meanwhile, the Panthers’ finals hopes are already on life support after mustering just two wins in the opening nine rounds.

THE MAN: Josh McGuire answered his Test snub in the best way possible, racking up a game-high 170 metres and finishing second in the tackle count with 44. The Broncos miss Corey Parker, but McGuire is about as good a replacement in the No.13 jumper the club could hope for, competing on every play and producing a phenomenal output. He shapes as a key part of Queensland’s Origin campaign.

THE MOMENT: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is back to reclaim the Kiwis No.1 jersey Jordan Kahu occupied throughout 2016, but the Broncos winger provided a reminder that he is a must somewhere in the backline for next weekend’s clash with the Kangaroos with his wonderful first-half try. Great leap and grab, big step and pace to finish it off – Kahu is one of the most skilful outside backs in the NRL.

Broncos 32 (Kodi Nikormia, James Roberts, Jordan Kahu, Tautau Moga, Korbin Sims, Matt Gillett tries; Kahu 4 goals) d. Panthers 18 (Trent Merrin, Matt Moylan, Reagan Campbell-Gillard tries; Nathan Cleary 3 goals)

FRIDAY

SEA EAGLES 46 d. RABBITOHS 8 @ Allianz Stadium

Souths arguably hit their lowest ebb of the Michael Maguire era, while Manly shape as a genuine finals contender after a blistering Friday evening display – highlighted by a reborn Akuila Uate’s four-try haul.

THE MATCH: Front-rower Brenton Lawrence started the Sea Eagles blitzkrieg with a barnstorming 12th-minute try, before Curtis Sironen latched onto a Daly Cherry-Evans grubber for 12-2 lead a quarter of the way through the match.

Jorge Taufua was the next to cross from a long-range movement, while Dylan Walker laid on back-to-back tries for Uate, and Jake Trbojevic capitalised on some brilliance from younger brother Tom to create a stunning 30-2 scoreline.

The Rabbitohs scored first after the break – a contentious four-pointer to Hymel Hunt – but Manly soon got back to work and Walker sent Uate in for another two tries in quick succession to put the result beyond doubt at 40-8 with 10 minutes left.

The Sea Eagles capped one of their most dominant performances in years when Blake Green put Tom Trbojevic through a hole on halfway, before backing up to score his side’s ninth try of the night.

Perhaps the only negative for Manly was their goalkicking, with Walker and Cherry-Evans landing just three of their seven attempts, before bench utility Jackson Hastings kicked two-from-two.

As for the Rabbitohs, slack defence and a general lack of urgency headlined their myriad problems.

THE MAN: Tom Trbojevic (239 metres, 2 line-breaks, 2 try assists), Jake Trbojevic (184 metres, 27 tackles), Aku Uate (132 metres, 2 line-breaks, 4 tries) and Martin Taupau (229 metres, 19 tackles) were all outstanding, but ex-Rabbitoh Dylan Walker’s display was out of this world. He ran for 149 metres and made two line-breaks, but it was four mind-blowing try assists for Uate that showcased Walker’s rare talent. Walker went backwards in 2016 but he’s currently in career-best form – and making a compelling case for Origin selection.

THE MOMENT: Jake Trbojevic’s try summed up Manly’s brilliance and Souths’ lethargy. Desperately needing to hold on in the dying minutes of the first half at 22 points down, the Rabbitohs allowed Tom Trbojevic to saunter out of dummy-half on the last tackle, before the fullback flicked up an incredible pass off the deck for his brother to score. The game was over as a contest from that point.

Sea Eagles 46 (Akuila Uate 4, Brenton Lawrence, Curtis Sironen, Jorge Taufua, Jake Trbojevic, Blake Green tries; Dylan Walker 3, Jackson Hastings 2 goals) d. Rabbitohs 8 (Hymel Hunt try; Adam Reynolds 2 goals)

EELS 26 d. COWBOYS 6 @ 1300SMILES Stadium

Johnathan Thurston’s abandoned comeback provided Parramatta with a significant advantage in Townsville, and the blue-and-golds took it with both hands to emphatically shut out the home side.

THE MATCH: Continuing the momentum garnered from two straight wins, the Eels led 14-0 at the break thanks to two tries and three goals from Clint Gutherson, backing up breaks from Corey Norman and Michael Jennings down the Cowboys’ brittle right edge.

Former Penrith utility Will Smith, a late call-up at five-eighth, scored a try on club debut after another Jennings bust, giving the Eels a commanding 20-0 lead after 50 minutes.

Antonio Winterstein raised hopes of a late fight-back with the Cowboys’ first try – a sharply-taken chance from a John Asiata kick in the 66th minute – but despite the historic sin-binning of Eels back-rower Kenny Edwards for slapping Gavin Cooper, the hosts couldn’t make any further impression on the scoreboard.

Veteran skipper Tim Mannah iced a rare win in Townsville for Parramatta when he barged over with six minutes left.

THE MAN: It’s been said many times, but it’s so accurate: Clint Gutherson is just a natural footballer. His energy and enthusiasm is Josh Reynolds-like, and his support play earned him two tries as part of an 18-point haul on Friday night. But he’s also consistent and relatively mistake free – tremendous qualities given Gutherson has had to bounce between five-eighth and fullback. With Mitchell Moses and Bevan French on deck in 2018, Gutherson will surely have to find a place at wing or centre, but there’s little question he’ll provide excellent value there, too.

THE MOMENT: Kenny Edwards’ twin moments of madness unfortunately overshadowed the Eels’ superb win to a certain extent. After goading Cooper following a crucial error, Edwards inexplicably ignored the NRL’s recent edict a gave the Queensland Origin forward an open-hander – now an instant sin-bin. Not content with creating unwanted history, Edwards went full Des Hasler back in the dressing rooms and wildly swung a fold-up chair at some lockers. Bravo, moron.

Eels 26 (Clint Gutherson 2, Will Smith, Tim Mannah tries; Gutherson 5 goals) d. Cowboys 6 (Antonio Winterstein try; Kyle Feldt goal)

SATURDAY

TITANS 38 d. KNIGHTS 8 @ Cbus Super Stadium

Gold Coast overcame a slow start to wear a depleted Newcastle side down and carve out a convincing victory, going back-to-back for the first time in 2017.

THE MATCH: The visiting Knights stormed to an 8-0 lead on the back of a try to rookie forward Sam Stone and two goals from Brock Lamb, before Jarryd Hayne – retrenched at centre to accommodate both Tyrone Roberts and Kane Elgey in the starting side – put the Titans on the board from a quick tap.

The Knights clung to an 8-6 advantage at halftime, but Elgey (43rd minute), Hayne (48th) and Konrad Hurrell (59th) put the home side in charge.

Stray goalkicking kept the Knights in the contest at 20-8 down, but the Titans finished in style with tries to Joe Greenwood, Hurrell and Ryan James inside the final 13 minutes.

THE MAN: Despite the positional shift, Jarryd Hayne produced his second strong performance in a row since returning from injury. Two tries and 103 metres from 13 carries in his first NRL start at centre since Round 8, 2009 suggested the controversial superstar can be the marquee man the Titans need him to be.

THE MOMENT: Konrad Hurrell is warming into his second season on the holiday strip, and his first try in the 59th minute showcased his underrated skill, brilliantly and bravely latching onto an Ashley Taylor chip kick. Then after winning possession for the Titans with a bell-ringer on a Knights opponent, the ‘Hurrellcane’ showed trademark power to burrow over from dummy-half with eight minutes left. They may not be pair together all season, but a Hayne-Hurrell centre combination rates among the NRL’s most formidable.

Titans 38 (Jarryd Hayne 2, Konrad Hurrell 2, Kane Elgey, Joe Greenwood, Ryan James tries; Ashley Taylor 2, Elgey 3 goals) d. Knights 8 (Sam Stone try; Brock Lamb 2 goals)

BULLDOGS 16 d. RAIDERS 10 @ ANZ Stadium

A gutsy Canterbury outfit overcame injuries to two key stars to hold off an impatient and wasteful Canberra side in a stirring Saturday evening showdown.

THE MATCH: The Bulldogs needed just four minutes to get on the board, burgeoning back-rower Adam Elliot brushing off Blake Austin to score a simple try.

But Jarrod Croker finished off brilliant lead-up work by Aidan Sezer and Josh Papalii to score the 16-minute leveller, before Josh Hodgson strolled over from dummy-half to give the Raiders a 10-4 halftime lead.

The loss of captain James Graham (concussion) and Tigers-bound playmaker Josh Reynolds (hamstring) before the break compounded Canterbury’s tenuous position, but the blue-and-whites came out fired up for the second stanza and scored just four minutes in through Josh Morris.

Elliot ran off a deft Will Hopoate pass to bag a double and a 16-10 lead with a quarter of the match remaining, and despite myriad opportunities, the sloppy Raiders were unable to trouble the scorers in the second half as the Bulldogs held on for a memorable victory.

THE MAN: Aiden Tolman has been bandied about as a likely sacrifice for Kieran Foran and Aaron Woods arriving at Belmore in 2018, but the front-row toiler stood up in Graham’s absence. Playing the full 80 minutes, Tolman racked up 203 metres from 21 runs and 36 tackles in a non-stop effort. Pretty good way to celebrate his 150th game for the club. Will Hopoate deserves special mention for his 308-metre return in his comeback from a nasty facial injury.

THE MOMENT: The Bulldogs needed to score first after halftime, and Josh Morris danced through some incredibly lazy Raiders defence to do just that. It indicated the Raiders thought they just had to trot back out in the second half and cruise to victory over their undermanned opponents, and Ricky Stuart will be livid with the lack of concentration and commitment his charges showed on both sides of the ball after the break.

Bulldogs 16 (Adam Elliot 2, Josh Morris tries; Kerrod Holland 2 goals) d. Raiders 10 (Jarrod Croker, Josh Hodgson tries; Croker goal)

SHARKS 22 d. TIGERS 16 @ Leichhardt Oval

Foiled by injuries and Bunker cock-ups, Wests Tigers were brave to the bitter end on an emotion-charged night at Leichhardt Oval, but the defending champs held their nerve to take the two points.

THE MATCH: The Sharks went to work early as Tony Williams enjoyed a dream start to his belated first appearance for the club, powering over for his 50th NRL try after nine minutes. The signs were ominous for the Tigers when Sosaia Feki raced in out wide from a Wade Graham pass just four minutes later.

James Tedesco was ludicrously denied a try by the Bunker thanks to Paul Gallen’s theatrics, throwing himself on the ground after a minor tussle with former Origin teammate Aaron Woods. But Kevin Naiqama went over in the corner in the 25th minute and Moses Suli followed suit soon afterwards to the hosts a shock 14-10 halftime lead.

The fight-back was tempered by the loss of Tedesco (concussion, following a high shot from James Maloney) and Woods (groin, after a controversial ‘wishbone’ tackle) in the latter stages of the half – a terribly inopportune insight into the Tigers’ future after both NSW stars signed deals elsewhere for next season.

The Tigers extended to 16-10 via a Mitchell Moses penalty goal, but the Sharks levelled through Valentine Holmes’ 57th-minute try.

The underdogs struggled to create opportunities without Woods’ second-phase play and Tedesco’s penetration and creativity from the back, while their defence was eventually brought undone again in the 69th minute as Chad Townsend scored from a clever chip-and-chase with stand-in fullback Naiqama horribly out of position.

The Tigers hung in bravely for the final 10 minutes, but never seemed likely to force the match into golden point despite a ragged Sharks side offering up plenty of possession in the latter stages.

Woods’ injury looks set to rule him out of the Kangaroos line-up for next Friday’s Anzac Test.

THE MAN: Probably the best player left out of the Australian team form-wise, Wade Graham was again sensational for Cronulla. The ball-playing back-rower produced two brilliant assists – a looping cut-out ball to send Feki over, and an offload in traffic to Holmes after catch a bomb in front of the Tigers’ posts – and put up customary solid running metres (115) and tackles (27) tallies. The notion that he could be left out of NSW’s squad for the series opener is ludicrous.

THE MOMENT: Perhaps it didn’t have much bearing on the result given the Tigers scored two tries in the following nine minutes, but the decision to deny Tedesco a try after Gallen’s Oscar-winning dive was an absolute disgrace, with the video men showing no commonsense. After a solid start to the season, the Bunker is falling apart at the seams, making a string of disastrous calls reminiscent of its never-ending debut-season debacle.

Sharks 22 (Tony Williams, Sosaia Feki, Valentine Holmes, Chad Townsend tries; James Maloney 3 goals) d. Tigers 16 (Kevin Naiqama, Moses Suli tries; Mitchell Moses 4 goals). 

SUNDAY

WARRIORS 14 d. ROOSTERS 13 @ Mt Smart Stadium

Mitchell Pearce went from hero to villain in record time in an extraordinary finish to a wet and wild Auckland afternoon, with the Warriors doing everything possible to shoot themselves in the foot before snatching a crucial win via Shaun Johnson’s clutch penalty with a minute to go.

THE MATCH: The Warriors started with purpose and opened the scoring after just five minutes as in-form front-rower James Gavet crashed over from close-range. Further points proved elusive, however, and North Island product Joseph Manu struck back for the Roosters with a slick solo effort in the 28th minute.

The sin-binning of Roosters winger Daniel Tupou for a professional foul proved crucial, with the Warriors crossing through David Fusitu’a to grab a 12-4 halftime advantage.

But after the hosts squandered a pair of gilt-edged opportunities early in the second half, Shaun Kenny-Dowall snaffled an intercept from Shaun Johnson and raced 50 metres for a momentum-turning try.

The Warriors looked certain to implode and were camped on their try-line for the next 10 minutes through a combination of errors, penalties and defensive misreads, but their ability to stop the Roosters from scoring again was nothing short of remarkable.

Michael Gordon’s penalty goal levelled the scores with 23 minutes to go, and Mitchell Pearce – the Anzac Day field goal hero against the Dragons – broke a lengthy and nail-biting impasse. Charged down twice by Ryan Hoffman, it was third time lucky for Pearce as he snapped a sweet one-pointer with five minutes left.

But with the Warriors hot on attack, Pearce was sensationally penalised for being offside (the halfback was lying in the ruck and didn’t get back the 10 metres during a helter-skelter Warriors play), allowing Johnson to step up and coolly slot the tricky match-winner from out wide.

THE MAN: Following an ordinary start to the season that had many calling for Danny Levi to supplant him as New Zealand’s hooker for the Anzac Test, Issac Luke has steadily regained form over the last five weeks and had arguably his best game in Warriors colours up against Kangaroos rep Jake Friend. Luke ran dangerously and often from dummy-half, kicked well, took on some of the playmaking load and reeled off 44 tackles – including some stinging effort. A great sign for the Kiwis.

THE MOMENT: Johnson’s remarkable one-on-one strip on Tupou ultimately saw the gangly winger sin-binned for holding down the Warriors halfback too long. Utilising the one-man advantage, Johnson sent Fusitu’a over within a couple of minutes to give the home side a vital buffer. It wasn’t Johnson’s best game – in fact, in some ways it was his poorest of the season – but he came up with some big plays in general play and off the tee. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s try-saver on Jake Friend in the second half also deserves mention.

Warriors 14 (James Gavet, David Fusitu’a tries; Shaun Johnson 3 goals) d. Roosters 13 (Joseph Manu, Shaun Kenny-Dowall tries; Michael Gordon 2 goals; Mitchell Pearce field goal)

STORM 34 d. DRAGONS 22 @ WIN Stadium

Melbourne’s back-three had a raging party in Wollongong to effectively seal the result inside 53 minutes, but St George Illawarra fought back admirably to score the last four tries of an unexpected points-fest between the two defensive powerhouses.

THE MATCH: The Storm were racing the clock for much of the first half, charging out to a 22-0 lead as Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr bagged early doubles on the back of super-slick backline play and brilliant finishing.

Jason Nightingale belatedly put the Dragons on the board in the 36th minute, but Billy Slater scored a quick-fire double – the second from a dazzling Vunivalu assist – to open the second half and set up a commanding 34-4 lead.

But the Dragons refused to drop their bundle, and after Nightingale scored his second, the sin-binning of Cooper Cronk saw the home side cross twice more. Cameron McInnes stretched out and Nightingale – who was contentiously overlooked for the Kiwis Test team just after the match – completed a hat-trick.

The brief flicker of a miracle comeback was eventually extinguished, but Tariq Sims charged away for the final say in the 79th minute to reduce the final margin to just 12 points – no doubt leaving many punters rejoicing or tearing up their tickets at the death.

THE MAN: Josh Addo-Carr is just electric, with his searing pace and magnificent scoring instincts netting him two first-half tries. He finished with 226 metres and three line-breaks in a typically busy display. He seems like the type of winger that would be flighty and error-prone – but in this Melbourne system, that’s just not the case. If pundits are throwing Akuila Uate’s name in the ring for an Origin recall, then JAC has to be a decent chance of a Blues debut.

THE MOMENT: Cameron Smith earned another indelible piece of history in an incomparable career by overtaking Jason Taylor for the most goals in premiership history. The Storm captain’s conversion of Slater’s second try was his 943rd goal, and he is almost certain to become the first player to break the magical 1,000-goal barrier by the end of the 2017 season.

Storm 34 (Suliasi Vunivalu 2, Josh Addo-Carr 2, Billy Slater 2 tries; Cameron Smith 5 goals) d. Dragons 22 (Jason Nightingale 3, Cameron McInnes, Tariq Sims tries; Josh Dugan goal)

[YouTube – NRL 2017]

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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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