First tackle: Broken record on inconsistencies
Here we go again, banging on about the ridiculous discrepancies between players being sin-binned or just penalised. It would be nice to focus on something else, but this issue is destroying the game and really needs to be addressed.
On Friday night we saw two shockers which both played major parts in determining a winner. The first came as the Cowboys were making a late charge against the Sharks. Cronulla prop Aiden Tolman ran the ball out from inside his own ten-metre line and for some reason bent over like he was packing a scrum, to drive into the defensive line at waist height. Cowboys forward Reece Robson was similarly bent over to make a waist high tackle. Tolman's head hit Robson's shoulder, it was reviewed by the bunker and Robson was told he had been careless and was sent to the sin-bin. It was a ridiculous call and it took all of the steam out of the Cowboys' last minute fightback.
In the late game, with the visitors on top of the Panthers early, Roosters forward Siosiua Taukeiaho was defending his line when Nathan Cleary charged at him, stepped and slipped over just before impact. Cleary's head dropped about half a metre in a split second and Taukeiaho's arm made contact.
After the bunker had finished looking at it, referee Ashley Klein made the astonishing announcement that contact had been made with the head and there were no mitigating factors. I had to go to the dictionary to check on the meaning of mitigating. It said: "Having the effect of making something bad, less severe or serious." The slippery conditions, Cleary falling, his head dropping half a metre in a split second. No mitigating factors for the high contact?
Taukeiaho was sent to the sin-bin with those words and the Panthers pounced. They scored 14 points while he was off to take a 20-12 lead. The game was turned on its head on the back of that decision. Not only did the home side score 14 points, but they drained a lot of gas out of the Roosters tank as they had to scramble defensively on the heavy surface. It was another potentially great game ruined.
Second tackle: Broncos dissolve after three calls go against them
The Broncos were right in the contest early against the Rabbitohs, until with 21 minutes before the break they had a try disallowed, with a very dubious knock-on call from a contested high ball which saw Tesi Niu put the ball down over the line. Shortly after Broncos winger Selwyn Cobbo was bundled into touch, before one of the Broncos forwards was driven back into his own in-goal area by what can only be described as a rugby union-style rolling maul. He slipped the ball to a teammate before a forward pass was thrown and a goal line drop-out was ordered.
The triple blow, topped by the loss of Cobbo and Jesse Arthars to injury, was enough to break the Broncos' spirit. Apart from an 80 metre chase from Xavier Coates, who ran down Dane Gagai after an intercept, the Broncos once again seemed to lose all will to compete. The Rabbitohs were good enough to take full advantage of their drop in intensity, Souths' fourth try to Hame Sele straight through the middle of the Broncos forwards was most telling.
Third tackle: Hurricane winds hit WIN
It was a cold and miserable night in Wollongong as the Dragons stunned the Raiders with a hard-fought victory. The wind from the south was gusting up to 60kph and the Dragons ran into it in the first half.
With four minutes left before the break, Dragons halfback Ben Hunt put up a midfield bomb around the halfway mark. It went high in the air some distance forward before the wind took hold and blew it back 20 metres, to be regained by the Dragons ten metres into their own half.
After trailing 14-6 at halftime the Dragons were able to make better use of the big wind, scoring three tries to one in the second half to win 22-20. It was another rough night for Ricky Stuart and his Raiders who now sit in tenth place on 12 points, level with the Cowboys and Knights.
Fourth tackle: Somebody make a tackle!
There was some incredible free scoring over the weekend as defence took a back seat in a couple of games. The Sea Eagles went to the break trailing the Titans 24-8 at Gold Coast Stadium. The paltry home crowd would have been very satisfied with the Titans efforts, as an upset seemed on the cards. Manly coach Des Hasler must have worked some of his halftime magic, because the Tom Trbojevic inspired Sea Eagles scored 48 points to nil after the break.
Just up the road at the Sunshine Coast, the Tigers were busy proving that two weeks is a hell of a long time in the NRL. Just a fortnight ago in front of a packed Leichhardt Oval they celebrated a victory over the Origin-depleted Panthers as though they had just claimed the club's second ever premiership. The Eels brought them back to earth last week, before the Storm absolutely buried them in it.
The reigning premiers ran in seven first-half tries to lead 40-0 at the break. They started the second half with four more tries in the first ten minutes and looked set to threaten the 80 point-mark, before a couple of injures saw them put the well-oiled machine into cruise control. The Tigers managed three consolation tries in the 66-16 thumping as club officials and fans threw their hands in the air in desperation.
Fifth and last: Super Kennedy
With 24 minutes remaining and the Sharks hanging onto an eight-point lead, the Cowboys received a free kick for a high shot just inside their own half. The kick for touch bit off a healthy chunk of territory, but looked like it was sailing safely over the touch line.
Sharks fullback William Kennedy saw an opportunity. Taking a run up he flung himself head first over the line reaching the falling ball at full stretch. He was somehow able to flick it back behind him to land in the field of play where Connor Tracey was able to dive on it. It was a brilliant piece of desperation play and it may have saved the Sharks from defeat.
Handover: Turning point and weight of possession ends Dogs' fight
The Bulldogs were going well against the Eels at Bankwest Stadium until a comedy of errors five minutes into the second half. Deep in their own territory halfback Jake Averillo fired a pass, intended for Brandon Wakeham, straight into a stagnant Dylan Napa. The ball fell behind Napa and as he stared at it trying to process what had happened, Mitchell Moses pounced, toeing the ball though towards the Bulldogs try line. With everyone wondering why Napa didn't just dive on it, Wakeham made the desperate decision to tackle Moses without the ball.
The play was sent to the bunker for review, where it was decided that Moses would have either scooped the bouncing ball up or successfully toed it again and in all likelihood would have scored a try. The penalty try, once converted, lifted the Eels to a 12-10 lead. Shortly after they split the defence through a Nathan Brown pass to Shaun Lane who dummied his way past fullback Nick Meaney to score the Eels' third try.
At 18-10, with the Eels mounting pressure on the Bulldogs' line, prop Luke Thompson was sent to the sin-bin for a late high shot on Dylan Brown. It was the straw which broke the back of Canterbury's gutsy effort against the third-placed Eels and left coach Trent Barrett unhappy at the disparity of the officiating.
"It was 8-2 six agains against us, 4-1 penalty count against us, a penalty try, a sin-bin, two wingers in the HIA, Luke Thompson goes to the sin-bin and they go back and put him in the bin, Tui Katoa gets concussed and we don't go back and look at that one - no report and no sin-bin," Barrett said.
"There's a few questions I will be asking this week, because we didn't get a chance to get in the game in the second half.
"I think we had 13 sets to their 24 and could only complete half of them."
It is the way of the 2021 season. The lesser teams have very little chance of beating the top sides. The officiating makes sure that any fight they might have in them is exhausted by disproportionate amounts of defensive work.