Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs overcame a host of State of Origin absentees to post terrific wins in Round 13, a week that ended with both clubs in the top four.
Missing New South Wales trio Boyd Cordner, James Tedesco and Latrell Mitchell and Queensland forward Dylan Napa, the Roosters entered a crucial fixture against Wests Tigers at Allianz Stadium on Sunday as outsiders.
Yet Trent Robinson’s side emerged as winners, edging the Tigers 16-14 in a scrappy clash highlighted by Daniel Tupou’s double.
It should have been a much more comfortable win, given the Roosters led 14-2 with 19 minutes left, but the losers mounted a terrific comeback that set up an exciting finish.
First Tim Grant crossed and, in the 74th minute, Josh Reynolds snuck over from dummy-half before Esan Marsters added the extras.
The Tigers probably should have taken the lead, too, only for Tupou to then produce a stunning tackle to deny Corey Thompson.
And in the very last play of the game, Blake Ferguson – who had a hit-and-miss afternoon – had to be on hand to force Mahe Fonua out of play with a huge tackle.
The win helped the Roosters climb inside the top four, one win behind South Sydney.
The Rabbitohs were also without a key quartet, with Queensland skipper Greg Inglis, teammate Dane Gagai and New South Wales pair Damien Cook and Angus Crichton all missing due to Origin selection.
But Tom and Sam Burgess, John Sutton and Robbie Farah all stepped up and played key roles in South Sydney’s 22-14 win over Cronulla on Friday evening.
Tom Burgess scored a double in what was a convincing win, with both of Cronulla’s tries coming in the last six minutes when the match had been decided.
The Sharks entered the clash on the back of five straight wins, but their run was ended by a team that has now won five in a row.
Sorry Eels lose again
Parramatta remains at the foot of the ladder after yet another defeat, the Newcastle Knights thrashing the Eels 30-4 on Saturday evening.
The one-sided win included five different players scoring tries for the Knights, while the Eels were again struck down by injury.
Star halfback Mitchell Moses injured his knee and he is likely to miss two weeks, while Bevan French was concussed.
The only positive was the news that Moses’ knee injury would not require surgery.
It was initially feared that Moses could have been set for an extended period on the sidelines.
Parramatta has won just two matches in 2018.
North Queensland Cowboys have also struggled this year but last season’s grand finalists did win in Round 13, posting a 26-12 win over Manly Sea Eagles on Thursday night.
Paul Green’s side recorded its fourth win of the campaign, thanks to a pair of Antonio Winterstein tries and an inspired performance from captain Johnathan Thurston.
The first State of Origin clash between Queensland and New South Wales will be played at the MCG on Wednesday.
Queensland has won 11 of the past 12 series, but several key retirements and an exciting, new-look New South Wales squad has the Blues as favourites.