Round 3 of the NRL season channelled the “Defy Impossible” motto used to promote this year’s season. Stunning try-savers made the difference twice, including in the rematch of the 2020 Grand Final, and some clubs made some unexpected leaps in the ladder.
But it was also a round filled with carnage, with a handful of teams losing several players each, including some big names, and the Cronulla Sharks even losing their entire interchange bench due to a variety of injuries. The result has been a wave of fresh calls for the NRL to introduce the 18th man in games who clubs can utilise if a player is lost to a concussion.
This is how Round 3 played out.
Panthers v Storm
Last year’s Grand Finalists were both down on some key playmakers, but the Penrith Panthers and Melbourne Storm still fought out a hard slog that came down to one of the most entertaining finishes in recent years.
Although both sides were neck and neck the whole way, the Storm stayed just ahead for a large part of the game, starting with a short charge by Brandon Smith over the top of Dylan Edwards. Penrith largely kept themselves in it by shutting down the Storm’s try-scoring opportunities, with Charlie Staines at one point out-running Josh Addo-Carr when chasing down the ball. Eventually, they had a few cracks of their own before Staines dodged two defenders on the wing to level the scores at 6-6.
The intensity continued into the second half with some impressive displays of skill aggression from both sides until Melbourne broke the deadlock with 15 minutes to go. After the Storm was awarded the ball from a Tyrone May knock-on, Addo-Carr grounded in the left corner, although a failed conversion kick by Cameron Munster put the scores at 10-6 and meant the Panthers could take the lead with a converted try of their own. Those heroics came up with two minutes to go as some crafty passing led to Kurt Capewell breaking through to the tryline before Stephen Crichton slotted the conversion for a 12-10 lead.
But another knock-on after the restarting kickoff gave Melbourne the opportunity to respond, and after the final siren, some more passing work led Justin Olam into several defenders in the try-scoring area. A tight bunker call would, however, find that Viliame Kikau had managed to get his hand under the ball, thus keeping it from the ground. As such, Penrith came away with the competition points in a memorable Grand Final rematch.
Dragons v Sea Eagles
Coming off two large losses against traditional powerhouses, the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles hoped to fare better against a not-so-powerful side in St. George Illawarra.
But the Dragons have become a new beast in the wake of last week’s victory over the Cowboys, as Ben Hunt and Corey Norman worked their magic in the spine again and Matt Dufty went on a rampage holding more of the ball than usual. Centre Zac Lomax was also destructive with the ball, his opening try off a Norman kick being the first of a total of 22 points he amassed over the game. While most of these came from converting every Dragons try, he also produced a second try in the 69th minute, making it to Hunt’s grubber with some accidental help from Sea Eagles winger Reuben Garrick.
He wasn’t the only one to share in the pile-on of humiliation, with Dufty also claiming a double. Reuben Garrick and Daly Cherry-Evans saved some face for Sea Eagles with a try each shortly before half time and full time respectively, but a slew of errors cruelled any chance of a comeback. By the time Brayden Wiliame scored the last try after spinning around Dylan Walker, the damage had been done to leave Manly in a bad position as they next take on Penrith.
St. George, meanwhile, will find their new form tested next week against the Parramatta Eels.
Rabbitohs v Roosters
The 123-year-old rivalry between Souths and Easts fired up once again after their last showdown turned out to be a 60-8 drubbing, even if the main sources of the boilover proved far too costly to be worth it.
The Rabbitohs fired early down the left-edge, with Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker combining for the first try in the 7th minute before helping Dane Gagai to one of his own in the 15th. South Sydney’s defence was also solid, keeping Roosters Crichton, Josh Morris, and Tupou from getting the Roosters on the board in the one play. Josh Mansour also posted a try before half-time for a scoreline of 18-0.
Poor discipline hurt the Roosters, who conceded six of the game’s seven penalties and saw troublesome forward Jared Waerea-Hargreaves up to some old antics in defence. But it was Daniel Suluka-Fifita taking it too far, landing a punch on the back of Jai Arrow’s head after already completing the tackle on him – that incident earned him ten minutes off in the sin bin. However, the Roosters did begin to mount a comeback in the second half, first with James Tedesco running 50 metres to the tryline after a Rabbitohs knock-on. Morrises Josh and Brett also contributed to close the margin to ten, but it couldn’t make up for a horror first half.
Their problems were further compounded by injuries to Lindsay Collins, Lachlan Lam and Luke Keary, the latter viewed as a significant loss in their premiership hunt.
Raiders v Warriors
The Canberra Raiders and New Zealand Warriors came together for a spectacular see-sawing affair with a similar thriller finish to the Panthers-Storm clash from earlier in the week.
Despite conceding the first try and playing most of the game with just one available interchange due to early injuries, the Raiders hit a strong half-time lead with what they could muster up. Jack Wighton equalised in the 15th with an exceptional dummy pass before Josh Hodgson sent Ryan Sutton over with a short pass. Iosia Soliola and George Williams also scored before Williams finished the half with a field goal to make Canberra’s lead beyond three converted tries.
The Warriors’ massive comeback started early as Kodi Nikorima finished off a team effort running down the side and poking through a tiny defensive gap. Canberra’s only try of the half came in the 47th when Elliot Whitehead grounded a kick from Jordan Rapana, and from there it was all the Warriors. They avoided rushing it with each try around nine minutes apart, but it was still enough to chip away at the lead until Adam Pompey powered through and dragged Jarrod Croker over the tryline with him to put them ahead by three.
The Raiders had one last crack in the dying seconds with Rapana diving for the corner, but Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck consolidated the win by pushing him over the sideline and forcing a knock-on. While the result, and some controversial decision-making earlier in the game, left Raiders coach Ricky Stuart with plenty of newsworthy frustration, the effort from the Warriors’ themselves is certainly a subject of admiration from their home across the Tasman.
Broncos v Bulldogs
The Brisbane Broncos’ last victory had been against the Canterbury Bulldogs back in July last year, and it was against the same team at home that they sought to post their first win of the 2020 season.
The first hour of the game was a slow grind with the only scoring being a penalty goal in the 33rd minute. That came after Bulldogs centre Nick Cotric tackled Xavier Coates to prevent him from catching an Anthony Milford kick near the tryline. Otherwise, both sides had some opportunities to open the scoring in the first half but bad errors and some dogged defence kept it to 2-0.
That was until the 58th when Jamayne Isaako run clean through the Bulldogs line from 40 metres out. Coates then piled on a double, first taking a pass from another line-break by Isaako before taking a short Canterbury kick-off high in the air and running over 60 metres. By this point, the Bulldogs defence had been exhausted and could do nothing against the nail-in-the-coffin try when Herbie Farnworth kicked towards the tryline and Tom Dearden managed to take the ball off an awkward bounce to hold the Bulldogs scoreless in their second consecutive game.
It was a much-needed win for the Broncos but it may be their only one for some time, with the Storm, Eels and Rabbitohs among the teams they’ll face in April. The same three teams also await Canterbury within the next month.
Eels v Sharks
While a wave of injuries had already erupted in the round by the time Parramatta and Cronulla-Sutherland player, it was after this game that the controversy erupted.
Cronulla lost three of their 17 to head injuries as well as Sione Katoa to a knee injury, while the Eels suffered two head injuries with one later able to return to play. But the Sharks’ losses left them only with the players already on the field and unable to rest any of them. The result was many players finishing out of their normal playing position as part of their desperate attempt to repel the red hot Eels.
It was all Parramatta after the Sharks scored in the first six minutes, with some of the usual suspects in Maika Sivo and Blake Ferguson wreaking havoc on the scoreboard. While not everything went their way, the Eels’ persistence paid off as the final three tries in the remaining twelve minutes put the result beyond doubt. It began with Ferguson recovering from a sloppy take of a Will Smith kick in the corner before producing one of his trademark backflips. Key backs and forwards combined beautifully to send Reagan Campbell-Gillard over before Ray Stone found a gaping hole in the Sharks defence and finished it off with a 40-metre run.
It remains to be seen whether the predicament caused will spark any change including in regards to an 18th man. For now, Cronulla can only pick themselves back up and fight on as they prepare for a clash with North Queensland.
Knights v Tigers
Coming from opposite ends of the ladder, it would have been hard to see anything but a Newcastle Knights victory against Wests Tigers, especially at home and with the added encouragement that was Mitchell Pearce’s 300th game in the NRL.
But Wests applied plenty of defensive and offensive pressure early and Tommy Talau was awarded the first try after crashing over before the ten-minute mark. Knights fullback Tex Hoy responded shortly after with a convincing dummy pass but Adam Doueihi kept the Tigers in front juggling a Luke Brooks kick in the try-scoring area. Missed conversions were all that accounted for the Tigers’ four-point lead at halftime: Mitch Barnett crossed over as well in the half but Hoy couldn’t convert either try for Newcastle.
Stefano Utoikamanu extended Wests’ lead shortly into the second half but after some more attacking play the Knights began to mount a comeback. Pearce’s dash for the line after some clever passing brought Newcastle back within a converted try before a similar show of teamwork, this time ending with Tyson Frizell, handed them the lead for the first time in the game with ten minutes to go. But a knock-on from Gehamat Shibasaki in front of Newcastle’s own line shortly after left their lead vulnerable, and David Nofoaluma made them pay in the corner.
The Knights hope to return to winning form next week against a surprise packet in St. George Illawarra, while Wests must take on Parramatta for two in a row.
Cowboys v Titans
Having defeated the Broncos last week, the Gold Coast Titans aimed to cement themselves as Queensland’s top NRL team against their far northern brothers the Cowboys.
Both sides showed plenty of grit to start with but the Titans just kept the intensity going for longer, drawing first blood with AJ Brimson chasing down his own grubber kick. While the game didn’t seem to really get away from North Queensland until a couple of quick tries brought the Titans’ lead to 26-0 at half time, the Cowboys didn’t seem to be in it either aside from their reasonable start. Plagued by injury, suspension and a medical retirement for star co-captain Michael Morgan, the undermanned squad didn’t click together and were too easily carved up by the Titans attack.
Both sides’ respective left edges were where the attacking was largely concentrated, and it was here the Cowboys finally hit the board with young gun Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow on the end of an impressive cross-field passing game. Murray Taulagi also scored for North Queensland in the other corner and Jake Granville was among those that had some other spectacular moments, but Gold Coast had too much going for them. Brimson and Corey Thompson both scored doubles, and David Fifita capped another standout performance with a try of his own after Tyrone Peachey slipped easily through the Cowboys defensive line.
North Queensland will now instead have to look for their first win in an easier few match-ups against Cronulla, Wests Tigers, and Canterbury, while the Titans will be putting themselves to the test against Canberra and then Newcastle.