Titans go top as upsets continue to mount
The Gold Coast Titans are the shock outright ladder leaders after five weeks of the madcap 2014 NRL premiership, upsetting the Storm in controversial circumstances in Melbourne during another weekend of baffling Heritage Round results.
The gritty Titans twice came from behind against their heavyweight opponents, before makeshift goalkicker Greg Bird calmly potted a 32-metre penalty goal inside the final minute following a contentious stripping penalty call. Despite the injury withdrawal of star five-eighth Aidan Sezer, the Titans’ misfiring backline clicked into gear for the first time this season, collecting four of their five tries.
The unfancied Gold Coast is now the only side in the competition boasting just one loss to date, with a logjam of eight clubs tied for second place.
The chaos began on Friday night with Parramatta’s stirring 25-18 comeback defeat of the Broncos, while Canterbury rolled the Sydney Roosters 9-8 after a brutal slog in the wet at Allianz. Previously winless Cronulla got off the mark via a 37-6 drubbing of an unbelievably poor Warriors outfit on Saturday afternoon.
Although far from boilovers, Penrith and South Sydney reversed recent form slumps by downing impressive round four winners Canberra and former table-toppers St George Illawarra respectively. But the Titans and Wests Tigers, who trounced Manly 34-18 in slippery conditions at a heaving Leichhardt Oval, left many tippers with a 0-7 record after a head-scratching three days.
This year’s competition continues to shape up like the zany 2005 premiership, when Parramatta set an all-time record for regular season losses for a minor premier, while Newcastle netted eight wins – an unprecedented tally for a wooden spoon team.
For so long the laughing stock of the NRL, the Parramatta Eels now shape as a genuine dark horse of the 2014 title race after claiming their third impressive win of the season. Overhauled after leading 10-0 during the first half, the exciting Eels came home with a wet sail to score the last nine points of the match in a 25-18 success.
Rejuvenated halfback Chris Sandow was sensational, wing powerhouse Semi Radradra scored yet another breathtaking try to draw further comparisons with the likes of legendary Eel Eric Grothe, while Nathan Peats capped a wonderful display with the decisive try from dummy-half and fellow recruit Corey Norman burned his former club with a consummate performance. In the pack, rough-and-ready tyro quartet Manu Ma’u, Kenny Edwards, Peni Terepo and the delightfully named Pauli Pauli continue to make every post a winner. New coach Brad Arthur is getting his young charges to buy into his philosophies and Parramatta are emerging as finals smokies.
The Warriors were disgraceful in the Shire, constantly turning over possession and giving away a string of lazy penalties to trail 16-0 at the break. Attempting to turn their fortunes around in the second half with a howling breeze at their backs, the Warriors were even worse, conceding another four tries before finally getting on the board inside the final minute. Incredibly, the Warriors did not make it to their kick during the first 20 minutes of the second stanza.
They made a winless Cronulla side besieged by injury problems and off-field disruptions look like premiership contenders – with workmanlike winger Nathan Stapleton scoring four tries – while hooker Nathan Friend was forced to make a career-high 62 tackles. It was a bewildering effort from the Warriors on the back of two superb wins, but sadly it was a performance the club’s fans would be all too familiar with.
Panthers rookie a mouthful and a handful
Another Kiwi boasting a double-barrelled name, Penrith winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is destined to gobble up more than his share of column inches – but not just because of his lengthy handle. The 18-year-old Hamilton-born flyer, whose grandfather Steve Watene captained New Zealand during the 1930s, scored two tries in difficult conditions to mark a brilliant debut against Canberra. A dazzling prospect in the Panthers’ already crowded outside-back ranks, Watene-Zelezniak plays with similar style to compatriot and fellow hyphen merchant Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Week to remember for …
South Sydney skipper John Sutton marked his return to five-eighth and his record-breaking 212th appearance for the club – breaking the long-standing mark of Rabbitohs great Bob McCarthy – by leading his side to a desperately-needed 24-6 win over the Dragons, their first victory since round one.
Week to forget for …
Warriors five-eighth recruit Chad Townsend endured a miserable return to his former home ground, following up inexcusably missing touch from a penalty with the intercept pass for Nathan Stapleton’s fourth try. It appears only a matter of time before the reliable Thomas Leuluai dons the No.6 again for the ridiculously flighty Warriors.
Play of the week
It may not have been enough to get Brisbane over the line, but Justin Hodges’ brilliant, trademark move to send winger Dale Copley over late in the first half was an encouraging sign for the Broncos in his first match back from a long injury layoff.
Blunder of the week
The video referee’s decision to deny Josh Dugan a vital try against Souths – after the Dragons fullback momentarily lost control before forcing the ball – may have been correct under the letter of the law, but highlighted the flaws in the interpretations of some tryscoring rules currently in practice. Dugan’s disallowed try was far less tenuous than many that get the green light in the era of frame-by-frame replay dissections.
Enigmatic Parramatta halfback Chris Sandow produced his second stellar performance after a long NRL absence, creating a plethora of chances in the Eels’ upset win over Brisbane, which he sealed with a magnificent long-range field goal.
Canterbury five-eighth Josh Reynolds put the heat on Roosters counterpart James Maloney as the Origin series looms, outplaying the NSW No. 6 incumbent with a man-of-the-match performance – including a game-winning field goal – in the Bulldogs’ 9-8 triumph on Friday night. Blues fullback front-runners Josh Dugan and Brett Stewart made serviceable returns from injury respectively in heavy losses, but the standout NSW No. 1s were once again Eels captain Jarryd Hayne and Tigers wunderkind James Tedesco.
North Queensland and Newcastle, both chasing just their second win of the season, square off in a vital clash in Townsville. The emotional toll of the Alex McKinnon tragedy may start to show on the weary Knights, with the Cowboys appearing good things to chalk up a much-needed win by a double-figure margin.