NRL talking points: Smith shines, Bulldogs beat Knights & Sonny Bill Williams

We’ve taken a look at the main talking points from round 11 of the NRL season.

Parramatta Eels 26-16 Wests Tigers

Parramatta Eels edged out Wests Tigers in a scrappy encounter to kick off round 11 at Bankwest Stadium. 

They bounced back from their defeat to Manly with two tries of individual brilliance courtesy of Reagan Campbell-Gillard producing a lung-bursting run to notch followed by Mitchell Moses’ superb chip and chase effort. 

Maika Sivo also grabbed a double in a contest which saw Ryan Matterson only lasting 15 minutes before being concussed in a collision with Russell Packer. 

Wests Tigers have injury problems of their own with a head knock leaving Michael Chee Kam convulsing on the ground, before he was taken to hospital as a precaution but it is understood he is in a much improved condition. 

They started strongly, Luciano Leilua crossing in the first minute and David Nofoaluma scored his 10th of the campaign, behind only Sivo and Sione Katoa, but the Parramatta pressure eventually told in the second half. 

Michael Maguire’s side face the Warriors in the Indigenous Round with Parramatta up against fierce rivals Canterbury. 

Stat of the match: 14 – The most prolific try-scoring season of David Nofoaluma’s career was in 2016 when he notched 14 in 23 matches. 

North Queensland Cowboys 12-24 Manly Sea Eagles 

Manly regained their place in the NRL top eight with a gutsy win over a Cowboys side with interim coach Josh Hannay in charge for the first time.

With some notable players still to return it was important for the Sea Eagles to win enough games to make the finals and consecutive victories gives them a good platform with half-back Cade Cust proving an able deputy for Dylan Walker.

The 21-year-old showed his talent by setting up Daly Cherry-Evans for a try and crossing himself in a 10-minute period after the break. 

Hannay dropped Kiwi international Esan Marsters with Mitch Dunn his replacement but it was two other players at opposite ends of their careers who shone. 

Full-back Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow displayed his promise with a scintillating run from his in-goal area and his all-round game may see him keep his place when Valentine Holmes returns from injury and Kyle Feldt, at the Cowboys since 2013, notched his sixth try in six starts in Townsville. 

North Queensland entertain Canberra next while Manly host table-topping Penrith Panthers. 

Stat of the match: 6 – Cade Cust has scored six tries in just 13 matches for the Sea Eagles since his debut in 2019. 

Brisbane Broncos 8-46 Melbourne Storm

A commanding second half performance from Melbourne condemned the Broncos to another heavy defeat in 2020. 

Despite Josh Addo-Carr giving them the perfect start with a first minute try, the Storm only led 14-8 at the break but Addo-Carr completed his brace and Tino Faasuamaleaui also crossed twice to give the scoreline many had expected. 

Ryan Papenhuyzen, who ran for 274 metres, notched himself and set up Jahrome Hughes with a brilliant left to right pass and veteran Cameron Smith, who controlled the second period, starred. 

Anthony Seibold can take heart from his side’s response in the opening stanza but will be concerned by their drop off, failing to register a point after half-time as they conceded 30 points or more for the fifth time this season.

Stand-in captain for the injured Alex Glenn, Patrick Carrigan has impressed consistently for the Broncos, a rare bright spark.

The Broncos will host Cronulla in round 12 and the Storm will close the round out against Newcastle. 

Stat of the match: 10 – Melbourne Storm have now won 10 straight games at Suncorp Stadium and have not lost to the Broncos since 2009. 

New Zealand Warriors 10-18 Sydney Roosters

New Zealand Warriors were narrowly beaten by Sydney Roosters at Central Coast Stadium. 

Having conceded 46 points against the Sharks in their last outing, the Warriors were a tougher prospect and led 10-6 at half-time with tries from Ken Maumalo and Eliesa Katoa. 

They had a chance of an outstanding victory before Joseph Manu struck with 12 minutes left but again Tohu Harris impressed including a remarkable try saving effort and they were further boosted by the arrivals of George Jennings and Daniel Alvaro on short-term loans from Parramatta. 

Following their loss against Canberra, it was another rusty performance from the Roosters but Luke Keary again came up with the play in an important moment as his solo try gave them the lead for the first time in the 52nd minute. 

As with their counterparts, Trent Robinson’s side are expected to make a signing announcement with Sonny Bill Williams expected to return to the club he played for between 2013-14 with NRL chairman Peter V’landys allowing him to play with two separate contracts (one for current club Toronto Wolfpack) in ‘exceptional circumstances’. 

The Warriors will play Wests Tigers in the second game of round 12 with the Roosters facing the Gold Coast. 

Stat of the match: 45 – Sonny Bill Williams played 45 matches for the Roosters, scoring 44 points. 

Cronulla Sharks 28-24 St George Illawarra Dragons 

Shaun Johnson was the architect of another Cronulla victory as they overcame injuries to hold off a St George Illawarra fightback. 

The half-back scored a try and assisted two others as the Sharks dealt with injuries to half-back Chad Townsend and centre Jesse Ramien.

However, their first try was controversial as the bunker awarded Jack Williams a try despite replays showing Dragons fullback Matt Dufty had grounded the ball first and the repercussions were swift with bunker officials Steve Clark and Ben Galea being dropped from the Titans-Panthers match. 

Cronulla’s strong opening period ensured they came away with the win as they led 22-14 at the break with further tries from Sione Katoa, the joint-top try scorer this season, Johnson and Will Kennedy. 

St George Illawarra had hopes of a fightback when quick-fire scores from Zac Lomax and Mikaele Ravalawa brought them to within four but Dufty and Saab missed chances late on to complete the turnaround. 

The Sharks face Brisbane next while St George Illawarra open the Indigenous round against South Sydney Rabbitohs. 

Stat of the match: 26 – This was the first time this season the Sharks had passed 26 points in a game this year and not gone on to score 40+ points. 

Canberra Raiders 18-12 South Sydney Rabbitohs 

The Raiders claimed a second successive win after Fijian rookie Semi Valemei’s maiden NRL try gave them the points in wet conditions in the capital. 

It looked as if they were set for a comfortable victory when Nick Cotric, days after announcing his move to the Bulldogs, and Jarrod Croker struck after just 13 minutes. 

However they trailed 12-10 at half-time before the winger’s intervention and a Croker penalty sealed it although they had to deal with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad to a compound dislocation of the finger with Jordan Rapana filling in at full-back. 

South Sydney responded to the early setback with Dane Gagai continuing his recent try scoring form and Adam Reynolds crossing but they could not extend their lead after the interval. 

They did give a debut to Jack Johns, son of Matt, after Alex Johnston suffered a head knock but the youngster lasted 35 minutes before having an HIA of his own. 

In round 12 Canberra travel to Townsville to face the Cowboys with the Rabbitohs playing St George Illawarra. 

Stat of the match: 21Adam Reynolds became just the second Rabbitoh (Eric Simms – 1,841) and the 21st Premiership player to reach 1,500 points. 

Newcastle Knights 12-18 Canterbury Bulldogs 

Canterbury claimed their first victory in six matches by holding off a fast finishing Knights side in atrocious conditions in Newcastle.

A superb first hour saw the Bulldogs lead 18-0 after tries from Aiden Tolman, his first since 2017, Raymond Faitala-Mariner and Jake Averillo. 

As for Newcastle, they were not helped by losing Andrew McCullough (hamstring) and then Connor Watson (achilles) for the season with the number nine spot now up for grabs.

Kurt Mann, one of the Knights’ best performers in 2020 at half-back, took over the dummy half role and shone with 52 tackles and no misses.

Newcastle will look to bounce back against Melbourne while Canterbury entertain rivals Parramatta. 

Stat of the match: 2008 – The last time the Bulldogs finished in last place was back in 2008 when they recorded just four wins. 

Gold Coast Titans 14-22 Penrith Panthers 

Penrith Panthers regained top spot with a gritty win over the Gold Coast Titans as they made their best ever start to a season. 

The Panthers nine wins and a draw is unprecedented and they struck first when Josh Mansour and Stephen Crichton continued their good form with early tries and Isaah Yeo scored as well as they edged a tight first half. 

Malakai Watene-Zelezniak sealed the win with the sole try after the break, his first in the NRL as Nathan Cleary guided the side around the park with typical authority. 

Before the match it was announced that the Titans had finally got their man with Broncos prop David Fifita signing a multi-million dollar three-year deal from 2021, ending a long running transfer saga. 

The forward pack for the Gold Coast looks strong for the following campaign with Moeaki Fotuaika and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, arriving from Melbourne, providing firepower.

Gold Coast will take this battling performance to Sydney Roosters in round 12 when the Panthers face Manly. 

Stat of the match: 1991 – The last time Penrith reached a Grand Final, and the most recent time they won a Premiership. 

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