Almanac Rugby League – NRL Round 14 wrap: Upsets, nail-biters and even a possible biter!

What a crazy time it’s been for rugby league, never mind what a crazy time to be on planet Earth which is being governed by a virus! As was the case last week, I prefer to focus on the football rather than the off-field turmoil, even if the trouble is hard to ignore.


As if COVID-19 breaches, a coach losing his job and another coach being trolled online haven’t caused enough drama, now we have a small group of idiots who racially abused a player! As for on-field stuff, a player was sent off for biting! Seriously, are commonsense, morality and human decency really that difficult?


Okay, enough of all that. Let’s not forget that there was some very eye-catching action in Round 14 of the NRL. There were some thrilling matches that went down to the wire. And half of the top four teams were beaten.


I’ve anticipated that the Penrith Panthers, Melbourne Storm, Parramatta Eels and Sydney Roosters are strong premiership threats, but two of them tasted defeat while only one of the others had a decisive win. And that was Melbourne, which had a comfortable 24-6 victory over the Roosters in the opening fixture. The situation for the Roosters took another turn for the worse, with Mitch Aubusson, Lachlan Lam and Luke Keary becoming part of a worrying injury toll. This trio joined the likes of Boyd Cordner, Brett Morris and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves on the casualty list, after Sam Verrills and Victor Radley were already sidelined with season-ending injuries.


A patchwork Roosters team upstaged the mediocre Dragons in the previous round but could not repeat the dose, as the Storm gained control and never looked in danger despite the absence of key duo Cameron Smith and Cameron Munster. The likes of Brandon Smith, Justin Olam and Jahrome Hughes produced the goods while the rest of the team was efficient in the absence of Smith and Munster.


Although ladder leaders the Panthers won for the ninth straight round, they had to work hard as they triumphed just 18-12 over the struggling but gallant New Zealand Warriors in the rain on Friday. Penrith led 16-0 but a New Zealand try just before half-time narrowed the margin to 10 points. The Warriors later closed the gap to four points before the Panthers kicked a penalty goal and then did enough to defend their insecure lead. The match was unfortunately tainted and somewhat overshadowed by the group of unruly spectators who, according to many, deserve a life ban if found guilty of racial abuse.


In the other Friday night tussle, departing Dragons coach Paul McGregor had a fine farewell as his team upset Parramatta 14-12 in the wet. There were plenty of marginal and contentious decisions throughout the 80 minutes. Parramatta led 6-0 before a double to Mikaele Ravalawa gave the Dragons a 10-6 half-time lead. The Eels regained the lead before two penalty goals put McGregor’s team ahead by two points. Parramatta threatened to snatch the lead again when a soaring Reed Mahoney grounded a kick in the in-goal area, but the ball just clipped the dead-ball line. The surprise result suggested the Eels have gone into a bit of a lull, having fortunately won the previous week after conceding three tries to two against the Cronulla Sharks.


The Sharks consolidated their top-eight position as they won against the lowly-placed Gold Coast Titans on Saturday. Injuries were a problem for both teams, while the match was marred by the dismissal of Kevin Proctor for allegedly biting Cronulla’s Shaun Johnson. It was notable nonetheless to see Johnson speak favourably of the villain rather than criticise him. The scores were locked at 12-all at half-time, before Proctor’s dismissal in the 56th minute proved game-changing. The Sharks quickly shot to a 30-12 lead against the 12-man Titans, before a consolation try narrowed the gap to 12 points.


The South Sydney Rabbitohs also consolidated their top-eight position although they were lucky to win, having been outscored six tries to five against the struggling North Queensland Cowboys. Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt had a night he’d rather forget, kicking only three goals from seven attempts and conceding a vital penalty. His goal-kicking counterpart Adam Reynolds slotted five from six plus the winning field goal. North Queensland scored three of the first four tries but led only 12-6. The lead changed numerous times before the Cowboys gained a 30-24 advantage and they still looked likely winners after the Rabbitohs scored an unconverted try. But a needless penalty against Feldt enabled Reynolds to level the score in the dying minutes before the Rabbitohs playmaker nailed a last-gasp one-pointer to steal the glory.


The third match on Saturday was largely predictable as the Broncos capitulated again, while the Canberra Raiders joined the Roosters on 18 competition points. The second-last Broncos led 8-6 at half-time after scoring two tries to one, only for their opponents to score 30 unanswered points in the second stanza. It was reminiscent of a few weeks earlier when the Storm led a maligned Brisbane outfit just 14-8 at half-time but ended up winning 46-8. Brisbane’s year of hell became even worse as Jake Turpin sustained a broken hand – following an injury stint earlier in the year – while Payne Haas was cited and faces a likely suspension for a crusher tackle.


Both of Sunday’s matches were thrillers which involved fluctuating scoring patterns, with the Newcastle Knights edging out the Manly Sea Eagles 26-24 before the Wests Tigers pipped the Bulldogs 29-28. The upshot was that Newcastle maintained sixth place while the Tigers remained a faint chance of making the top-eight. Manly’s top-eight hopes took another dive while the Bulldogs squandered a golden chance to move off the bottom of the ladder.


The Sea Eagles led 12-0 early on, only for the Knights to score the next 20 points. Manly scored the next 12 points, before a Newcastle try brought the scores level. Kalyn Ponga showed nerves of steel as he converted, before the Knights hung on.


Meanwhile, the Tigers quickly turned a 6-all scoreline into a 22-6 lead, only for the Bulldogs to jump to a shock 28-22 lead with barely 10 minutes left. The Bulldogs had the chance to go seven points in front but the crucial field goal attempt went astray before a converted try to Wests brought the scores level. Each team subsequently failed with a field goal attempt before Tigers five-eighth Luke Brooks made no mistake in the 79th minute. The difference between winning and losing could hardly have been more minuscule.


An oddity with The Bunker this week came about in the Raiders versus Broncos match when there was confusion surrounding what could and what couldn’t be adjudicated on. Check it out here and see if you can make heads or tails of it:!783022


Meanwhile, one particular touch judge might be lucky to survive the axe this week after an obvious blunder in the Knights versus Sea Eagles contest:!783142


Never a dull Round!


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About Liam Hauser

A Queenslander through and through, Liam went out of his comfort zone as he had a thoroughly worthwhile time in Tumut and Gundagai from 2008 to 2016 before enjoying a year in Gunnedah. His strongest sporting interests are State of Origin, Sheffield Shield, Test cricket and the NRL. His sporting CV doesn’t have many highlights, although he once top-scored in a warehouse cricket match with 54 not out at number 10, and shared in an unbroken last wicket stand of 83 with the number 11 who scored an undefeated 52. Liam has written books including State of Origin 40 Years, A Century of Cricket Tests, A History of Test Cricket, The Immortals of Australian Cricket, The Immortals of Australian Rugby League, and The Great Grand Finals: Rugby League's Greatest Contests. Also a huge fan of Electric Light Orchestra.

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