The Newsroom reviews the first week of the NRL Finals, in which the Titans and the Bulldogs were eliminated.
Next weekend, four teams clash to see which two progress to the preliminary finals, where they will meet the Melbourne Storm and the Cronulla Sharks who enjoy a bye after winning their qualifying finals.
Broncos eliminate Gold Coast Titans
The Titans got off to a great start at Suncorp when Chris McQueen scored in the 3rd minute, cleaning up after Corey Oates spilled a Tyrone Roberts cross-field kick. Brisbane hit back in the 10th minute when James Roberts sprinted down field and managed to get a kick away for Jordan Kahu to cross the line. Controversy flared when Konrad Hurrell kicked the ball out of Kahu’s hand before he could ground the ball. Referee Bernard Sutton ruled it was a deliberate attempt to stop the grounding and awarded a penalty try, a decision backed by the bunker. The Titans responded swiftly with a try by David Mead off a well-weighted grubber kick by Taylor. The pendulum soon swung Brisbane’s way when Milford broke the line to sprinted downfield. Smooth passing from the play-the-ball sent Kahu over for his second try. Brisbane swiftly regained possession from the restart and briefly took the lead when Jarrod Wallace barged over under the posts after a pass from Corey Parker, but the Titans responded with a try to Josh Hoffman off a magical cross-field kick by Jarryd Hayne. The teams went in at 18-16 to the Titans, but by then the Gold Coast team had lost Taylor to a hip injury.
The second half opened with a shocker from Haynes, who dropped the ball off the restart. It was a costly lapse: Andrew McCullough send Alex Glenn across to score in the 42nd minute. Glenn got another 10 minutes later when he pounced on a grubber from Ben Hunt, then Oates crossed in the 63rd to give Brisbane a 16-point lead. The Titans responded with a second try to McQueen off a pass from Nathan Peats but the Broncos swiftly put paid to any hope of a Gold Coast revival. Milford attempted a field goal in the 68th minutes but missed then regathered to score under the sticks. Ryan James followed that with his 12th for the season, breaking the record for a front-rower, then a mistake by Mead gave Oates an opening for his second try to dump the Titans from the finals series, 44-28.
Sharks survive the Raiders
Despite losing their captain, Paul Gallen, to a back problem the Sharks produced a stunning defensive display to down the Raiders 16-14 in front of a hostile crowd at GIO Stadium in Canberra. Their win earned them a bye next week and puts them straight into a preliminary final, just 80 minutes from a grand final berth.
The atmosphere at Canberra was electric, the home team welcomed by a “Viking clap” from the fans before they launched themselves at Cronulla. The Sharks’ defence held firm against several successive attacking sets but eventually the Raiders broke through, Josh Hodgson opening the score when he plucked the ball from a mistake by Jack Wighton. The Raiders got out to a 12-0 lead when Jordan Rapana sprinted 85 metres to the line, weaving through the helpless Cronulla defence, but then the Sharks took control and stood firm. Cronulla hit back on the stroke of half-time when a perfectly timed Michael Ennis pass sent Matt Prior through for a rare try. The conversion was good and the teams went in at 12-6.
The Raiders got their last points in the 45th minute when Jarrod Croker took a penalty goal, but were swiftly brought back to Earth when Valentine Holmes crossed to take the score to 14-12. From then it was a dour grind, the only points going Cronulla’s way as the Raiders conceded penalties. James Maloney slotted two – enough to silence the Canberra fans and push the Raiders to next week’s second semi-final. Canberra star Hodgson was carried from the field with a leg injury early in the second half and is unlikely to play next week. – Jesse Mullens
Melbourne see off the Cowboys
The Storm were desperate to claim revenge at AAMI Park for their preliminary finals exit to the Cowboys in Melbourne last season, when they lost 32-12 to the eventual Premiers. Cameron Smith signalled his intent from the get-go with his fifth 40-20 kick of the season, inside the third minute, before he snatched the opportunity to open a 2-0 lead from a close-range penalty. The Storm extended the lead after a careless Gavin Cooper flick allowed the opportunistic Fijian flyer Suliasi Vunivalu to scoop up the ball and skip away from Johnathan Thurston to run 70 metres and score his 23rd try of the season. The Cowboys hit back just before half-time when prolific try-scorer Antonio Winterstein found the line after some slick back-line movement. Thurston converted to level the scores at 6-all.
Melbourne kicked ahead with a penalty goal in the second half then opened an eight-point lead when Jesse Bromwich capitalised on a pass from Smith to go crashing over the line. The Cowboys stuck to their task and closed the gap in the 62nd when Thurston and Michael Morgan linked up to draw in the defensive line and make space for Kyle Feldt to cross for his 13th try of the season to bring the score back to 14-10. The Storm defence defied everything the Cowboys could throw at them, then Smith slotted yet another penalty goal to take the final score to 16-10. The victory earned the Storm a bye; in their preliminary final they will take on the winners of next week’s semi-final between the Raiders and the Penrith Panthers. The Cowboys will have to win next week’ semi against the Broncos, their Grand Final opponents last year, to progress to a preliminary final against the Sharks.
Panthers pounce on hapless Dogs
NSW and Penrith star Matt Moylan steered the Panthers to a comprehensive 28-12 win over the Canterbury Bulldogs in Sunday’s elimination final at Allianz Stadium. Moylan was clearly uncomfortable under a barrage of menacing high balls from Josh Reynolds before he settled to deliver a man-of-the-match performance, playing a hand in five Panthers tries.
Canterbury half Moses Mbye broke through an initially shaky Penrith defence to open the scoring, then increased the lead to six when he slotted a penalty goal in the 26th minute. Despite the early wobbles by the inexperienced Penrith side, the Dogs could not dominate and the Panthers finally found their rhythm. Slick Penrith passing outflanked Canterbury’s left-hand side and allowed Nathan Cleary to lob a long pass to Dallin Watene-Zelezniak for the Panthers’ first four-pointer of the afternoon, taking the half-time score to 6-4.
Canterbury coach Des Hasler unleashed on his side in the sheds but that failed to lift the more experienced team whereas Penrith came out bigger and better in the second half. There was some magical passing from the Penrith line as Moylan retrieved a kick and offloaded to Josh Mansour who beat three defenders before breaking into open space then passing to Waqa Blake who dived over in the corner as the Dogs’ fullback Brett Morris limped in his wake. Penrith then followed up that gem with a contender for try of the season: a brilliant run-around between Moylan and Mansour created space for Isaah Yeo to push down the left flank. Yeo then unloaded to Tyrone Peachey who evaded several tacklers before sending Peter Wallace clear to cross under the posts. The Panthers kept rolling as Moylan released Peachey who dummied to his support and extended the lead to more than two converted tries. A penalty goal by Cleary stretched Penrith’s lead to 18, then Mansour collected his own try, just reward for some brilliant supporting play, by sprinting 55 metres to the left-hand corner.
The Dogs gained some small consolation when the retiring Sam Perrett scored his final try in the NRL under the posts then successfully converted. He played more than 250 games and scored over 90 tries in his 13-year career. – Patrick Staveley
The path to the Grand Final:
1st Semi-final: North Queensland Cowboys v Brisbane Broncos
Friday, September 16, 7.55pm, 1300Smiles Stadium
2nd Semi-final: Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers
Saturday, September 17, 7.40pm, GIO Stadium
1st Preliminary Final: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v winner of Cowboys v Broncos
Friday, September 23, 7.55pm, Allianz Stadium
2nd Preliminary Final: Melbourne Storm v winner of Raiders v Panthers
Saturday, September 24, 7.55pm, AAMI Stadium
Photo of Bronco Jordan Kahu sprinting to the line from the NRL’s Twitter feed.