The much anticipated 2007 NRL season kicked off on Friday night, leading into a weekend of brilliant football and major incidents.
Melbourne Storm 18 def Wests Tigers 16
Premiership favourites Melbourne made a good start to the season with a win against the Tigers. The Tigers were impressive in their first hit-out and came close to achieving a major upset; however the Storm were just good enough to hold on for the win. The dummy-half battle between Cameron Smith and Robbie Farrah was a joy to watch with both players proving that they are the best in that position. Greg Inglis was solid in his first game at five-eighth and managed to lead his side to a narrow victory.
North Queensland Cowboys 23 def Brisbane Broncos 16
A massive crowd at Suncorp Stadium was on hand to witness a tremendous match between the Broncos and Cowboys. The Cowboys had the better of the first half and managed to open up a 16-6 half time lead. Brisbane managed to fight back in the second half and the scores were tied at 16 with just 8 minutes remaining. Brisbane blew a big chance to take a shot at field goal when they were attacking the Cowboys line, coming up with a costly error. In the ensuing set of six it was Matt Bowen who took control of the match, scoring a brilliant long-range try that had the stadium buzzing. He sealed the match with a field-goal for the final result. The Cowboys will be a force in 2007 and the Broncos are facing a slow start to the year, particularly with news that captain Darren Lockyer will miss at least a month due to injury.
It was the Warriors of old on Saturday night as they razzled and dazzled their way to a 24-0 half time lead over the Eels. Parramatta struggled from the outset, commiting costly handling errors and giving away penalties at inopportune times. The turnover of possession proved to be vital. The Warriors are a team that can pile on the points and they did just that. Their ball control and completion rate was particularly impressive and they will be looking to build on that throughout the season. The Eels mounted a fight back in the second half but 24 points was always going to be too big a lead to haul in. New signing Wade McKinnon was brilliant for the Warriors at fullback.
Wet conditions turned this encounter into a dour affair and neither team held onto the football for long enough to mount any decent pressure. In the end the Sharks managed to control the flow of the game and ran in 3 tries while the Panthers were held scoreless. Penrith were particularly disappointing and have plenty of work to do if they are going to challenge for a finals spot. The win breaks a 10-game losing streak for the Sharks and is a step in the right direction. Halfback Brett Kimmorley was impressive and they will need him to continue that form throughout the season.
Canberra have shown why they are the wooden spoon favourites with a lackluster performance against the Sea Eagles. Manly certainly weren’t at their best however had no problems accounting for the Raiders. Ball control and a good kicking game were the difference in the end. Players played in semi-darkness in the second half when some of the stadium lights went out; however this didn’t seem to bother Manly as they piled on the points. Jamie Lyon bagged two tries in his return to the NRL and the Sea Eagles were well led by their forwards, particularly Glen Stewart who is looking to cement a position in the backrow.
It took just three minutes for this game to explode. Andrew Johns looked certain to score for the Knights when he was stopped in his tracks by a Sonny Bill Williams high tackle. The result was serious concussion for Johns and a send off for Williams, setting up an extraordinary game ahead. The Bulldogs looked like they would be able to cover for the loss of Williams when they raced to an 18-2 lead. The Knights seemed to be in shock in the first half after witnessing their captain being carried off, however managed to produce an inspiring fightback in the second stanza. They clawed their way back to 24 all and took the lead thanks to a 73rd minute field goal to Kurt Gidley. The Bulldogs nearly produced the miracle they were looking for in the dying minutes; however reserve Dallas McIlwain dropped a pass with an open try line in front of him.
The Gold Coast Titans played their first ever NRL game in front of a big crowd in Brisbane. They performed admirably and nearly came away with a win against the Dragons outfit. Chris Walker scored the club’s first ever try and the Titans would be disappointed that they came away empty handed. The match was in the balance throughout and in the end a bit of luck and experience allowed the Dragons to survive. The match was great to watch and the Titans were certainly willing to throw the ball around. They will be an exciting team to follow in 2007 and hopefully they will only get better.
The new South Sydney signings made their mark as the Rabbitohs produced one of their best performances in recent years. Russell Crowe was on hand to witness a rejuvenated team that defended admirably and controlled the game with good ball control and accurate kicking game. The Roosters had a few opportunities, however seemed to lack direction in attack. They also let Souths off the hook on many occasions, giving away silly penalties that gave them easy yardage away from their own line. Roosters coach Chris Anderson trialed having a solitary marker in the play the ball, but will have to rethink this strategy as Souths were able to dominate the ruck area. The return of the glory days for South Sydney may be on the horizon.