Almanac Rugby League: NRL Round 18 Wrap: Benji’s still got it!

The most decisive aspect of Round 18 of the NRL was that it became certain as to which eight teams will feature in the finals. In the remaining two rounds of the regular season, the order of some of those eight teams may yet change.

 

The Sydney Roosters sent out an ominous warning that a hat-trick of premierships is firmly in their sights as they crept into the top three. The Penrith Panthers and Melbourne Storm appear certain to finish as the top two teams, while the Parramatta Eels slipped to fourth. The South Sydney Rabbitohs and Newcastle Knights swapped positions yet again, with Souths regaining sixth while Newcastle slipped to seventh.

 

Thursday night’s fixture was a strange one as the Rabbitohs opened up a 20-0 lead after 33 minutes, only for the Wests Tigers to outscore them 24-6 in the remaining 47 minutes. The Tigers were back in the hunt as they trailed 20-12 at half-time, and tempers flared in the second stanza as two Tigers and one Rabbitoh were sent to the sin bin. Souths went ahead 26-12, but the margin shrank to two points with 10 minutes left. With the Tigers having produced a spectacular come-from-behind win over the Manly Sea Eagles only six days earlier, another miracle beckoned as 35-year-old Benji Marshall was in sublime form with his spiralling passes and flick passes. Unfortunately for Marshall, a death-or-glory kick for the in-goal area proved wasteful in the late stages as the ball trickled over the dead-ball line, not to mention that this happened early in the tackle count. On another given day, Marshall’s bravado would have produced a winning try. Either way, there was still a lot to admire about Marshall and his football in his twilight years.

 

The Sea Eagles survived a scare on Friday as they downed the bottom-placed Bulldogs 32-20. Manly went on a spree in the 10 minutes leading up to half-time to turn a 10-0 deficit into a 16-10 lead. It didn’t take long for the Sea Eagles to stretch their lead to 12 points in the second half, only for the Bulldogs to cut the margin back to six points. It was the last of Manly’s worries as the Sea Eagles scored the next two tries before the Bulldogs nabbed a consolation four-pointer. As it turned out, a top-eight berth remained out of Manly’s reach.

 

Also on Friday, the Panthers increased their winning sequence to 13 matches yet didn’t have things all their own way in their 20-2 victory over the Eels. The Panthers enjoyed the weight of possession and field position, yet didn’t open their account until the last minute of the first half. The match could have panned out differently had Parramatta clung to its 2-0 lead at half-time, but the Eels nonetheless did well to repel numerous waves of Penrith attack throughout the match. On the other hand, Parramatta’s inability to score a try was a concern, amid the team’s indifferent form of late. Penrith’s Liam Martin showed great athleticism as he leapt to bring down a chip-kick and score the second try of the match, yet the Panthers weren’t safe with a 12-2 lead. They had a few near misses, and it wasn’t until the last four minutes that Penrith was assured of victory, courtesy of a penalty goal and a last-ditch converted try to make the margin look convincing.

 

Dragons winger Cody Ramsey scored two tries in the first 35 minutes of his First Grade debut. Check his mum’s reaction here (https://www.foxsports.com.au/nrl/nrl-premiership/live-nrl-dragons-sensation-debuts-as-raiders-look-to-keep-up-with-top-four/news-story/f3cbbca791673d504cef1613a34f3dd4). But Saturday wasn’t a good day for the Red V against the fifth-placed Canberra Raiders. Canberra five-eighth Jack Wighton was the star with his two tries, including a brilliant solo effort. Goal-kicking was the only thing separating the teams at half-time as Canberra led 14-8 following two tries to each team, before the Raiders scored 23 unanswered points in the second stanza.

 

The Titans claimed south-east Queensland bragging rights as they beat the Broncos for the second time in as many attempts this year. The Broncos began brightly with a converted try in the first eight minutes, but it was their only success as the Titans moved to a 12-6 half-time lead. The only try of the second half was one of the best tries of the season. Check the try and other highlights here (https://www.foxsports.com.au/nrl/nrl-premiership/teams/broncos/nrl-2020-gold-coast-titans-v-brisbane-broncos-queenslands-shame-banner-michael-ennis/news-story/58a5d356d928f975fecfc392aa7d1cc1). It was telling that the Broncos lost the game by two converted tries, after losing the ball over the tryline on two occasions. But there was no use being hypothetical as they suffered a ninth successive defeat. One particular banner said it all: BRONCOS…QLD’S SHAME.

 

The Roosters gave the Knights a lesson as the reigning premiers recorded a comprehensive 42-12 victory. Giving key backs Kalyn Ponga and Hymel Hunt a so-called “rest” against the Roosters could arguably have been deemed ill-advised from a Newcastle perspective. The Roosters scored at better than a point per minute as they bolted to a 24-0 lead before a Knights revival halved the margin. The Sydney team regained a 24-point lead at the 45-minute mark, but only one try was scored in the last 35 minutes following eight in the previous 45 minutes. The result continued a yo-yo run of form for the Knights, who lost 36-6 to the Warriors one week and beat the Sharks 38-10 the following week, and then capitulated against the Roosters.

 

On Sunday, the Storm led the struggling Cowboys 24-4 at half-time before the North Queenslanders surprisingly outscored the Melburnians 16-12 in the second half. The Storm were on track for a huge win as they led 30-4 with more than 30 minutes left, but they lost their rhythm as they failed to go for the jugular. The Cowboys actually scored the first try, only for things to fall apart in the next set as Josh McGuire was bizarrely banished to the sin bin for dissent while his team had possession. The Storm scored some lamentably soft tries in the first half, before the Cowboys scored fine back-to-back tries in the second half. Kyle Feldt leapt brilliantly and touched down in the right corner as he retrieved a cross-kick from Scott Drinkwater. A try to Melbourne’s Jahrome Hughes ended North Queensland’s revival, although Cowboys winger Valentine Holmes crossed for the last try of the game soon afterwards.

 

The final match of the round had plenty of interest as the Warriors needed a win to have any chance of grabbing the last finals place off the eighth-placed Cronulla Sharks. Cronulla led 12-0 before New Zealand’s Jack Murchie scored a vital try with half-time looming. A penalty goal put the Warriors in the lead in the final 20 minutes, only for the Sharks to nab two tries in the final six minutes to win 22-14 and secure their finals spot.

 

Stay tuned for Round 19, bearing in mind that several teams have little or nothing to salvage in the remainder of the season. Remember that finals and State of Origin are still to come.

 

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Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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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 35 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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