Sunday 22 October 2017 / 12:09 PM

NRL SATURDAY: COMEBACKS GALORE

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.

[YouTube – Rugby League/Union]

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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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