First tackle: Williams returns with a whimper
With 27 minutes remaining in the game and Kyle Flanagan kicking a penalty goal to take the Roosters to a 12-6 lead, SBW stood and removed his dressing gown. The wait for the most talked about return to the NRL since SBW last returned was almost over.
Four minutes later he stood on the sideline holding his numbered replacement card. The commentators were turning themselves inside out through nervous anticipation. With 21 minutes and 40 seconds remaining he ran on to the jeers of the Canberra crowd. He immediately grabbed the ball for a hit-up in the middle of the field and was met by three very enthusiastic Raiders forwards. As he headed backwards to the turf, he slipped a pass. Williams was back.
He was overly enthusiastic in defence, and on his next carry he passed it before the line. While all eyes were on him, man-of-the-match James Tedesco crossed for a try which saw the Roosters extend their lead to 18-6.
His next play was to dive on a loose ball 10 metres out from his own line, squirting the ball back to a teammate. As he lay on the ground behind the ruck he was visibly sucking in some very deep breaths. Even the fittest of players know the realities of achieving match fitness.
His next touch of the ball was another catch and pass before the line. With just over 10 minutes remaining in the game he charged at the defense but was wrapped up comfortably. His next two plays were more halfback again than powerhouse back-rower. With eight and a half minutes remaining in the game he jogged off with a slight limp.
It was a controlled and uneventful 14-minute return. We will require much more evidence before being convinced Sonny Bill Williams can still be a force in the NRL. The way the Roosters are playing though, if he can force his way into their top 17, he'll have a very good shot at adding a third NRL premiership to his illustrious list of sporting achievements.
Second tackle: Mad shot sees Shark banned
It's not often a player transgresses badly enough to be sent from the field. It is very rarely a key half, the diminutive playmakers not usually associated with the kind of illegal act that results in the ultimate on field punishment.
In the second half of the Knights comfortable victory over the Sharks, Kalyn Ponga took a bomb on the full with a foot in his in-goal area resulting in a 20 metre tap restart. He raced out to take it as the Sharks scrambled to set a defensive line.
Sharks half Chad Townsend, returning from five weeks out of the game with an ankle injury, took it upon himself to stop Ponga and make a statement. Frustration levels must have been high for the Sharks half after watching his team score the first try before conceding four to trail 22-4. Townsend launched himself at Ponga, making contact high, with his shoulder, with no attempt to wrap his arms. It looked spectacular, it looked bad and a push and shove ensued between everyone on the field, apart from the prone Ponga.
The referee conferred with the bunker before pointing the way to the sheds for Townsend. After reviewing the replays it became clear that Ponga was pulling up after the referee blew his whistle to stop his quick restart. Townsend didn't stop and had the better of the collision, but he was high and all shoulder.
Townsend was charged with a grade three shoulder charge, which comes with a three-week ban after his early guilty plea. It was a costly moment of madness.
Third tackle: Warriors robbed of clear six again
The six again restart rule is so inconsistently adjudicated that it is ridiculous at times.
With seven minutes remaining and the Warriors trailing the Eels by four points, Warriors winger Adam Pompey made a half break down the right hand-side on the fifth tackle. He was brought down five metres into the Eels half, and tried to get to his feet to play the ball but had an Eels defender doing a full gymnastics routine on his back, like he was a human pommel horse.
A six again call would have seen the Warriors well on the attack and the stretched Eels defence under enormous pressure. It is so easy to call six again on the first and second tackle when it doesn't matter, but when a defender slows a play-the-ball down at a crucial time of the game, the referees need to show some consistency.
Fourth tackle: Blown try costly for Dragons
Corey Norman may have won the biggest blown try of the year award just before half time against the Cowboys. Taking a clever inside pass from halfback Adam Clune near halfway, Norman streaked away. He had three Dragons players outside him as he slowed to feign a kick. Cowboys fullback Valentine Holmes backed off, Norman accelerated and weaved turning Holmes inside out.
With ten metres to go before the line, Norman could have gone himself, but instead threw a cut out pass to the knees of Dragons centre Euan Aitken. The ball bounced off him into the in-goal area where the Cowboys cleaned it up.
The Dragons received a penalty because Clune was held back from supporting Norman. Clearly Norman had way too much time to think and too many options to consider. It's hard to know whether Clune calling for the ball in support would have only added to the mental clutter.
The Dragons ended up losing to a Valentine Holmes field goal in golden point extra time. Norman's meltdown snuffed out any remote mathematical chance the Dragons had of making the finals.
Fifth and last: Young wing taught hard lesson
Young Souths winger Steven Marsters learned a lesson the hard way on Friday night, one he will probably never forget. With 13 minutes remaining in the first half and the Rabbitohs leading 8-0, a slick backline movement saw the ball in the hands of Storm winger Josh Addo-Carr, with plenty of room to move.
Marsters made the classic wingers' defensive move of showing Addo-Carr the sideline, encouraging him to try his hand at beating him on the outside with the precipice of the sideline looming. Addo-Carr, never lacking in confidence, took the challenge despite the slippery conditions. With a slight in and away movement he accelerated and left his young opponent grasping at air. Once past Marsters, Addo-Carr drew the fullback and threaded a perfect pass to Ryan Papenhuyzen who crossed for the Storm's first try.
There's a reason Addo-Carr is a New South Wales and Australia representative winger. He is the ultimate test for any opponent, young or old.
Handover: Staggering effort from Bronco
With just over a minute to go in the Broncos loss to the Panthers, we saw why the Broncos need to rebuild their team and culture around Katoni Staggs. Trailing by 13 points the Broncos tossed the ball wide to the arms of Staggs. Standing in his way was NSW and Australia winger Josh Mansour. Staggs dispatched him with an almighty fend. The power of it sent Mansour sprawling and put a wobble in Stagg's run. As he staggered towards the Suncorp Stadium turf he managed a perfect one handed pass across a pursuing defender and onto the chest of his support. The play broke down from there, but the effort from Staggs in a losing cause was admirable.
In a well-documented horrendous year for the Broncos, Staggs has been a standout. Unlike some of his teammates he gives his all regardless of the match situation. You'll see him running and hitting hard from the start of the game to the finish. If the new Broncos coach can somehow instill some of the Staggs mentality into the rest of the squad, 2021 will be a much better year.