The NRL wrap: Round 21

Cop that one
If falling to a fourth defeat in their last five games to the second bottom team on the ladder wasn’t bad enough for the Brisbane Broncos, Dale Copley’s double definitely rubbed salt in the wound. The centre was instrumental in Sydney Roosters’ 32-16 victory as he kept the man who replaced him at the Broncos, James Roberts, in his back pocket for 80 minutes. Copley crossed for the opener thanks to Blake Ferguson’s perfectly timed pass, before returning the favour and sending the fullback over, and he completed his brace 13 minutes from time. Ferguson came up with the play of the game, as he took a last tackle kick to tip toe down the touchline and find Shaun Kenny-Dowall with a diving offload. Despite being out of the running for the finals, the Roosters could play a huge part in deciding the make-up of the eight in their remaining fixtures. Brisbane’s chances of making the top four are now severely dented after the shock loss, as last year’s finalists are a shadow of the team they were in 2015.

Dogged defence

Canterbury Bulldogs gave their top four hopes a lift with a hard fought 13-10 victory over St George Illawarra Dragons, despite being unable to post a single point in the second half. It was the response the Dogs would have been looking for following last week’s 36-0 drubbing at the hands of the Cowboys, and there was an element of luck to their opening score. Josh Reynolds got away with an obvious trip, before finishing a slick move which was started by Moses Mbye. Sam Kasiano then made an impact from the bench as he ran over Gareth Widdop to score, with Reynolds’ one-pointer making it 13-0 at the break. The Dragons came out all guns blazing as Widdop’s kick sent Kurt Mann over, before Benji Marshall came up with an assist of his own with the boot to lay on a try for Euan Aitken. The Dragons threw everything they could at their opponents but couldn’t find a way through, and are left to wonder if their top eight hopes are over after a fourth straight defeat.

That’s Gold
When the full-time hooter sounded at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday, the New Zealand Warriors fans must have been thinking ‘not again’. After losing three of their last four games in golden point they finally ended their hoodoo thanks to some individual brilliance from Shaun Johnson. The hosts were eight points ahead with 62 minutes on the clock, as David Fusitua’s second of the game was accompanied by an Isaac Luke penalty to give the Warriors breathing space. Josh Mansour inspired a late comeback for Penrith Panthers to send the game into extra time, as he barged through the defensive line for his first before crossing in the corner after a Peter Wallace 40/20 for his second. Then up stepped Johnson with a play which will make the highlights reel for years to come, as he shaped to go for the one before dancing his way over for four golden points. The Kiwi’s leapfrogged their opponents into the top eight with the dramatic win, as the race for the finals remains as tight as ever.

Moses leads the way
Mitchell Moses was inspirational for Wests Tigers, as they made it back-to-back wins with a 23-8 victory over the struggling Parramatta Eels. Moses was the architect of David Nofoaluma’s opener, before James Tedesco raced away in support of a break, which is becoming a certainty in every game the speedster plays. Moses knocked over three penalty goals, with Vai Toutai crossing in between for the Eels’ first and only try of the game, before the Tigers halfback sent over Sauaso Sue with a well weighted kick. The most impressive thing about Sue’s try was Aaron Woods’ celebration though, as he managed to get it right this time before bundling his team mates to the ground. Moses rounded off a great performance with a field goal, made even more impressive by the injury to Luke Brooks in the second half. Wests are now outside the eight on points difference only, while Parramatta’s season looks to be petering out in disappointing fashion with a third straight defeat.

Melbourne muscle up
When a team is missing the influence of a player like Jonathan Thurston, you can forgive a dip in form, especially when they come up against Melbourne Storm. The gaping hole left in North Queensland Cowboys’ attack by the loss of JT to injury was evident, although that shouldn’t take anything away from the Storm’s brilliant defensive efforts to limit last year’s Premiers to just one try. Cooper Cronk sent Kevin Proctor over for the first try of the game, before Marika Koroibete came up with a trademark diving finish in the corner to extend the advantage. Antonio Winterstein replied for the hosts before Tim Glasby collected a Cronk grubber to make it 16-8 at the break. The scores would remain at that for the whole second half, as Melbourne’s fifth win in a row took them to within a point of the league leaders. For the Cowboys, they are clinging onto their place in the top four by points difference only as they look to defend their crown.

Raiders run riot
Canberra Raiders just keep proving their doubters wrong, and moved up to third spot with a fifth straight victory, seeing off South Sydney Rabbitohs in emphatic fashion. The return of Sam Burgess seems to have done little to lift the Bunnies this season, as he has failed to have the impact he did in their Premiership winning season. Josh Hodgson has been instrumental in the Raiders’ rise, however it was fellow England international Elliot Whitehead who stole the headlines with a brace of tries. They both came from Jordan Rapana, who grabbed a double himself as Canberra’s right edge were rampant throughout. John Sutton scored his side’s only points in the 54-4 defeat, with former St Helens star Iosia Soliola scoring the final try of the game with a 40 metre effort. The Green Machine face a tough run in which will test their Premiership mettle, while Souths have now lost eight in a row with only Newcastle Knights currently on a worse run.

Sea Eagles still alive
After putting together four straight wins, Manly Sea Eagles are well in the hunt for the finals as they sit just two points off eighth spot following their 36-16 victory over Newcastle Knights. Tom Trbojevic was at the forefront of Manly’s devastating attack, as he created the opening scores from Jorge Taufua and Brayden Wiliame. He then came up with a break to put Josh Starling over just before half-time, as the hosts were 26-0 ahead. A quick-fire double from Dylan Walker and Matthew Wright killed off the game as a contest, before the Knights ran in three tries to restore some pride. The last of those was a brilliant finish on the hooter by Brendan Elliot, however it was too little too late. If Manly are to stake a claim for a place in the finals they will need to continue their impressive form of late into the final five rounds. In stark contrast, the Knights will be desperate to get the rest of the season out of the way and forget about it, as they sit bottom of the ladder with only one win to their name after they equalled a club record of 13 straight losses.

Titanic effort
Cronulla Sharks’ winning run was brought to an end on Monday night, as Gold Coast Titans denied them a 16th straight win in an 18-all draw at the Cbus Super Stadium. It looked to be another routine win for the ladder leaders early on, as Ben Barba created tries for Valentine Holmes and Jack Bird to open up a 12-0 lead. That was until Sosaia Feki’s knock-on gifted Chris McQueen a try before the scores were level thanks to David Mead, who raced over after collecting a brilliantly held up pass from Tyrone Roberts. Konrad Hurrell’s sensational flick pass then found Anthony Don, with his acrobatic finish putting the hosts in the lead. It seemed to be the winning score until Andrew Fifita collected Luke Lewis’ offload to cross under the posts eight minutes from time to send the game into golden point. James Maloney came agonisingly close to snatching a win, but his field goal attempt came back off the post as the teams were forced to share the points. Cronulla remain at the top while Gold Coast currently occupy seventh and have given their chances of playing finals footy a huge boost.

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