First tackle: Walker magic after first half woes
Halfway through the first half, in a two-minute period, Roosters young halfback Sam Walker felt the full weight of first grade rugby league. He jumped into dummy-half at the Roosters' end of the field and was crunched in a tackle by Sharks captain Wade Graham. The pass he squeezed out went forward and the Sharks were awarded a scrum feed. A couple of tackles later, Sharks fullback Will Kennedy lined Walker up, trampling through him and several others to score Cronulla's second try.
With ten minutes remaining and the Sharks leading 18-10 Walker threw a pass that was so good it made up for all that. With a flick of the wrists he lobbed a 25 metre arcing ball that hit Daniel Tupou on the chest at top speed. He dived into the corner to bring the Roosters within four points.
Walker wasn't finished with his redemption, minutes later he took on the Sharks defence and went himself, stepping and shoving Chad Townsend to the ground before crossing for a try. The conversion took the Roosters to 20-18. With scribes busily penning glowing reviews of the 18 year-old's two match-winning plays, he screamed; "wait up, I'm not done!" This time he worked towards the right and floated a mirror-image of the Tupou pass, this time landing on the chest of Brett Morris who crossed to seal the match.
The Roosters had fought back from a 14-point deficit and young halfback Walker confirmed his enormous potential.
Second tackle: Niggling goes unpunished in days of punch ban
It was the great Steve "Blocker" Roach who first pointed out that the NRL's crackdown on punching had led to a proliferation of cheeky little players niggling bigger opponents without fear of retribution. Blocker's well-made point was that a halfback was far less inclined to pat a prop on the top of the head back in the days when he'd soon have a fist the size of a dinner plate crashing into his beak for doing so.
We saw a couple of examples of this ugly development over the weekend. Panthers fullback Stephen Crichton decided that Penrith's celebration of Charlie Staines' second half try should include dragging Raiders backrower Joseph Tapine into the team cuddle. Tapine was minding his own business on the sideline, waiting to come onto the field as a substitute. The unnecessary niggle resulted in an ugly all-in push and shove, which ended with players being warned, but no further action taken.
In the Storm's thumping of the Bulldogs it was Cameron Munster who celebrated a first half try by patting Ofahiki Ogden firmly on the head, as he sat in the defensive wreckage. Ogden, no doubt fueled by the all-consuming frustration of being a Bulldogs player, jumped to his feet to shove Munster. It led to another ugly all-in push and shove, during which Storm forward Nelson Asofa-Solomona let loose a sneaky round arm into a pile of players. This time the two forwards were sent to the sin bin to consider their actions, but Munster, the instigator of the whole thing, wasn't even spoken to.
I'm sure if Ogden had known he was going to the sin bin anyway, he might have done more than shove Munster, and maybe as a result, Munster would think twice before he did it again.
Third tackle: Tigers booed at break on Tommy's day
Wests Tigers filled Leichhardt Oval for a special tribute day in memory of Magpies legend Tommy Raudonikis, with four games played and the No. 7 jersey retired for the day. The solemnity of the pre-game minute's silence was only matched for poignancy by the rounds of booing at halftime, as the home side walked from the field trailing dismally. Despite the emotion of the day, the Tigers had been embarrassed by the Cowboys' 40-minute five-try effort.
The crowd's disapproval and no doubt coach Michael Maguire's stern words had the desired effect as the Tigers came out after the break and scored the next three tries. They had all the ball and all the momentum and looked to take the score to 28-24 with another try, but were denied by the video referee review showing an obstruction by James Roberts. The Cowboys regained their feet and deflated the fightback by scoring the next try. It was an open and attacking game, with defence taking a back seat. Certainly not the tough, in-the-trenches style football Tommy was remembered for.
Fourth tackle: Penalty try could have gone either way
We saw our first penalty try for the year in the game between Parramatta Eels and St George Illawarra Dragons and the Eels fans weren't too happy about it. Dragons fullback Matthew Dufty broke into the clear inside the Eels' quarter and chipped ahead into the in-goal area. Eels forward Nathan Brown found himself in a mismatched race to the ball and instead of relying on a legal shoulder to shoulder contest, he couldn't resist also grabbing at Dufty's jersey. The combined attention saw Dufty speared into the goal post padding and the ball safely cleaned up by the Eels cover defence.
The referee referred the decision to the bunker suggesting that Brown might be due a stint in the sin bin for a professional foul. The replays clearly showed the jersey grab, but what wasn't so clear, particularly in the eyes of the fervent Eels fans, was whether Dufty would have made it to the ball for a grounding.
It was pretty clear that Dufty would have beaten Brown for pace, but the uncertainty surrounded him clearing the padding on the posts and making the required downward pressure on the ball. It could have gone either way and I've seen more certain penalty try decisions turned down in the past. If Brown had just used his shoulder and not grabbed at the jersey, it would have been play on.
Fifth and last: Little things symptomatic of Broncos woes
It was a fair indication of the troubles besetting the Broncos and it came with ten minutes remaining in the first half against the Rabbitohs. After a troubling start to the game, where Souths played some razzle dazzle football to score two tries and take a 10-0 lead, the Broncos scored a try of their own and started putting together some effective sets.
They were working their way downfield through some solid forward charges and reached the last tackle just over halfway. For some reason the ball was tossed back to fullback Jamayne Isaako who put in a hurried kick from behind all of his teammates. He stood and watched the high ball travel barely ten metres forward, where his teammates were penalised for being offside. Clearly he wasn't the man to have the ball on the last tackle and his kick wasn't what he would have been hoping for, but basic fundamentals should have seen him race forward towards the Rabbitohs line to put his players onside before the ball landed.
Eight minutes later the Rabbitohs were in again to take the score to 16-6. Adam Reynolds followed up his try by kicking the game's first ever two-point field goal from 45 metres out and the Rabbitohs never looked back from that point on. The Broncos were left to head home where they need to start working on the basics.
Handover: Sea Eagles break the drought
The Sea Eagles celebrated Daly Cherry-Evans' match-winning field goal on fulltime against the Warriors as though they had just won the Grand Final and understandably so. The club has been under enormous pressure after continuing a poor finish to 2020 with four losses to start 2021.
It was an ordinary game by anyone's standards, but the gritty win could be just what the Sea Eagles needed to kick-start a recovery of sorts. They expect injured superstar fullback Tom Trbojevic to return next week as they take on the Titans. They are going to need him to be at his best on top of the confidence gained from their first victory of he year, because David Fifita and the Titans are starting to look really good.