First tackle: Smith magic, somewhat soured
There was a moment with 14 minutes remaining in the Storm's comprehensive defeat of the Raiders that more or less summed up the brilliant career of Cameron Smith. The Storm were well in control of the game, leading 30-6, when Nick Cotric kicked ahead after making a break near halfway. The awkward bounce cleared everyone, but landed back in the arms of Cotric, who had just metres to go before the line. Smith latched onto the winger, pulling him to the ground with his full weight causing the ball to spill free. It was an outstanding desperation effort from the veteran, who had chased all the way after being the marker back near halfway.
Then, just as every rugby league fan the world over was rising to their feet to applaud the effort, Smith was seen in the ear of Cotric, letting him know how good it was. A messy push and shove ensued and a lot of those rugby league fans sat back down, remembering the animosity they harbour towards the Storm captain. As brilliant as he is, if he's not on your team, it is hard to like him.
With five minutes to go, Smith was given an early mark and walked a long path around Suncorp Stadium, back to the bench. The adoring Queensland crowd stood and cheered, many suspecting it may have been his last game at the stadium.
Second tackle: Game of inches
We saw another clear-cut turning point in the Rabbitohs loss to the Panthers on Saturday night. The Rabbitohs were never out of the game, with Penrith maintaining a lead that was never really safe.
With four minutes remaining, and the Panthers clinging to a four-point lead, the ball was passed back to Adam Reynolds who put in a brilliant 40/20 kick that beat fullback Dylan Edwards into touch. The Rabbitohs were set to regain possession deep on the attack - a perfect opportunity to snatch a place in the Grand Final.
As the Rabbitohs ran down field to grab the ball, referee Gerard Sutton asked the bunker to check the kick. He received confirmation, as the replays clearly showed, that Reynolds had stepped on the 40-metre line as he kicked. It was a scrum to the Panthers and they were able to regain control and hold on for their first trip to a decider since 2003.
Third tackle: Rugby-style mauls are ridiculous
Since when have the rules of rugby league allowed five defenders to grab a ball carrier, keeping him from hitting the ground while marching him backwards up to 15 metres?
I have never seen a player carried as far backwards as Dale Finucane was at the start of the second half against the Raiders. The Canberra forwards, with coach Ricky Stuart's words no doubt still ringing in their ears after an embarrassing first half, formed a rugby-style maul around Finucane and marched him back 15 metres into his own in-goal area.
It was just the start the Raiders needed after the Storm ran all over them to lead 24-6 at the break. Unfortunately for the Raiders, they dropped the ball two tackles later. At the end of the next set of six, the Storm players returned the rugby maul favour. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad fielded a kick and was dragged back ten metres into his in-goal area.
We saw a couple of further examples of five-man maul tackles in the Panthers-Rabbitohs clash. It is not only foreign to the game, but it is dangerous. You can't have five players shoving one player backwards, the referee has to step in and call held much sooner.
Fourth tackle: Scrappy affair as Cummins loses control
One thing noticeable during the Panthers victory over the Rabbitohs was the mayhem from both sides in and around the ruck. Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook was effectively taken out of the game, and to a lesser extent so was his opposite number Api Koroisau, because there were very few clean play-the-balls. Cook had just four runs on the night for 21 metres, while Koroisau had eight runs for a more fruitful 82 metres.
The "Six Again" calls were scattered and inconsistent and there was a lot of dropped ball in the ruck as players untangled themselves as ineffectively as possible. It meant for a large part that the Rabbitohs were unable to release their potent backline. It certainly took away from the spectacle of what should have been a much more open contest.
Fifth tackle: Rough night for young Fijian winger
Canberra's Semi Valemei was playing in only his 10th NRL game when he ran out against the Storm on Friday night. Like his opponent Suliasi Vunivalu, Valemei is part of the recent crop of talented Fijian flyers. Hard-running, fearless and lightning quick, they are the excitement machines on the end of many NRL backlines. Unfortunately for Valemei, it was simply not his night.
The Storms' third try, during their first-half onslaught, resulted from some terrible play from Valemei. The Storm sent a bomb skyward towards the young winger who stood beneath it on his own 20 metre line. Despite the oncoming Storm players, Valemei refused to leave the ground and the ball went through his arms and back towards the Storm players. What he did next was probably worse than the spilt bomb.
Valemei started moving infield, without advancing, anticipating that Jahrome Hughes would take play in that direction. Instead Hughes turned the ball to Vunivalu who had Jarrod Croker ahead of him as Valemei raced back to his position to help. Vunivalu dummied to dispose of Croker, but still had Valemei to beat from ten metres out. He did that way too easily with a bit of a step. Valemei threw out an arm, spun around like a turnstile and grabbed at a mystery pain in his neck as Vunivalu celebrated another Storm try.
Just before half-time the young Raiders winger was positioned under another bomb. It was a typical floater that moved away late and Valemei didn't get a hand to it, the ball bouncing dangerously back towards the Storm pursuit. Fortunately for the Raiders, captain Croker was there to clean it up. Valemei made some strong runs later in the game, but the Storm continued to target him with the high ball, an area of his game that he really needs to work on.
Handover: Cut it out Pap
Ryan Papenhuyzen took the field for the big clash with Canberra Raiders with his hair freshly trimmed into a look that has parents across the country covering their impressionable sons' eyes. The new era mullet sees the hair around the ears shaved to the skin with the rest left looking like a possum skin over the top from forehead to the back of the neck. Kids everywhere are demanding the look, bringing tears to parents eyes.
At least the frightful look had no ill effect on Papenhuyzen's game, it may have made him a step or two faster. His support of Josh Addo-Carr for the Storm's second try after eighth minute, was scintillating.
Still, the NRL has to do something about the hairstyle that is spreading across some of the game's best players, with Penrith's Nathan Cleary also donning the look. These guys are supposed to be role models!