Brisbane blew the race for the top four wide open with a third straight win, getting home against Canterbury Bulldogs 20-10. The Dogs had put together three wins of their own to strengthen their grip on fourth spot, but the Broncos have now gone within two points with just two rounds remaining. Tom Opacic opened the scoring to finish off a brilliant move, as the ball was kept alive from one edge to the other before Sam Thaiday sent the centre over. Brett Morris beat brother Josh to a Moses Mbye grubber to reply before Ben Hunt regathered his own kick to score on the half-time hooter. Thaiday found his way over for the first try of the second half, then Sam Kasiano reached out and found the line to give the Bulldogs a chance with 10 minutes left. The hosts stood tall in defence and saw out a crucial win, which could see them mount a late charge for fourth spot. The game boiled over late on as Kasiano kicked out and caught Corey Parker in the face, which could land the front-rower in trouble.
Panthers maul Tigers
Penrith eased to a 40-10 victory over Wests Tigers to make it three wins in a row and strengthen their position inside the top eight, as they are now four points clear of the chasing pack. The home side ran in seven tries to romp home, led by the brilliant halfback combination of Nathan Cleary and Bryce Cartwright, as they continued to play some great attacking football. Their first score was typical of their brand of football, as they went the length of the field from a kick return after Waqa Blake finished a Dallin Watene Zelezniak break. Wests were poor all over the field, as they missed James Tedesco at the back and soft defence was to blame for a number of the tries they conceded. Back-to-back defeats have dented Wests’ chances of making the eight, as they are now three points behind Gold Coast Titans with only two rounds remaining. Luke Brooks returned for the visitors but couldn’t lift his side to a much-needed win, however Mitchell Moses was a shining light as he came up with a try and try assist.
Newcastle broke another unwanted record in Round 24, as they slumped to an eighth straight home defeat at the hands of Gold Coast Titans. It is now 16 losses in a row after going down 26-6, making it their longest losing run at home. For their opponents though it was a crucial win, which sees the Titans go three points clear of the chasing pack in eighth place with only two rounds remaining. Ryan James was influential again, grabbing a first half brace either side of a Chris McQueen try, but could easily have sat this week out after a high tackle on James Tedesco in Round 23 which broke the fullback’s jaw and ended his season. Nathan Ross scored the only try for the hosts as Luke Douglas crossed for the only try of the second period. One win from their final two outings will secure finals football for Gold Coast, and they will be hoping that the concussion which forced marquee signing Jarryd Hayne from the field 15 minutes from time isn’t too serious.
Suliasi Vunivalu crossed for four tries inside 40 minutes to strengthen his place at the top of the try scoring charts, and also strengthen his side’s position at the top of the ladder. The Fijian winger had an outstanding first period in Melbourne Storm’s 38-18 win over Manly Sea Eagles, and Cooper Cronk was at his best as he marshalled his side around the field. It was a great day for wide men, as Manly youngster Brad Parker crossed for a brace on his Brookvale Oval debut and Jorge Taufua marked his 100th NRL appearance with a try. Marika Koroibete was the only winger who didn’t find his way over, but skipper Cameron Smith darted over for his first try since Round three of the 2015 season. The visitors were a class above their opponents and kept Manly at arm’s length throughout the contest, with Cameron Munster also impressing in another good performance for the fullback. With a three-point cushion at the top of the ladder, one win from the remaining two rounds will seal the minor premiership for the Storm.
Cowboys crush Warriors
North Queensland Cowboys snapped their three game losing streak with a comfortable 34-6 win over New Zealand Warriors, as they went within two points of fourth-placed Canterbury Bulldogs. The reigning premiers have lost just once at the 1300 Smiles Stadium this season, and Kyle Feldt grabbed an early double to open the scoring, both coming from the boot of Michael Morgan. Jason Taumalolo was in devastating form, and he charged over from a Jonathan Thurston inside ball soon after. Ryan Hoffman scored his side’s only try before Justin O’Neil replied on the stroke of half-time. Ray Thompson was over from dummy half in the second period, before the impressive Morgan raced to the try line from another JT inside ball to wrap up the win. The Cowboys will need two wins from two if they are any chance to sneak into the top four, and their opponents are in a similar predicament in regards to their top eight hopes. The Warriors are three points behind Gold Coast Titans, and they can’t afford any slip ups if they are to make a late push for a finals spot.
Second half raid
Canberra extended their winning run to eight straight victories, as they ran in 24 unanswered second half points on their way to a 28-18 triumph over Parramatta Eels. They trailed 18-4 at the break after Michael Jennings and Bevan French crossed either side of a score from the returning Semi Radradra for the Eels. Skipper Jarrod Croker inspired a dominant second half comeback though, laying on a hat-trick for his winger Brenko Lee and he also crossed for a try of his own at the start of the second half. By converting his own try the centre wrote his name in Canberra history, as he broke the club record for most points scored in a single season. Former St Helens star Sia Soliola wrapped up the win with a late try as the Raiders moved within two points of Cronulla Sharks and confirmed their place in the top four. With the Sharks out of form, the Green Machine could sneak into the top two which would see their Preliminary Final take place at home where they have won 10 from 12.
Roosters run riot
The Roosters made it back-to-back wins as they eased to a comfortable 42-6 win over St George Illawarra Dragons, inspired by halfback Mitchell Pearce. With Pearce in the side all season they may have challenged for the top eight, but it wasn’t to be as they only have pride to play for in the final two rounds. He put the kick in which sent Mitch Aubusson over for the opener, put Ryan Matterson on his way to the second try and also stabbed a kick in for Daniel Tupou to pick up his second. Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall have come under criticism throughout the season, however they combined to score the Dragons’ only try as Widdop plucked his halfback partner’s kick out of the air. Blake Ferguson continued his impressive form for the hosts as he crossed for a double late in the contest, the first of which came from a great break from promising youngster Connor Watson. The Dragons are now out of the running for the top eight as their chances of a finals berth came to a disappointing end.
Cronulla Sharks’ hopes of clinching the minor premiership took a huge blow on a wet Monday night, as they went down 12-6 to South Sydney at ANZ Stadium. The Sharks are now three points behind Melbourne Storm and are without a win in their last four, losing three on the spin and being held to a draw. Souths toughed it out in a brilliant defensive display and played the conditions perfectly, even without their star playmaker as Adam Reynolds left the field midway through the first period due to concussion and couldn’t return. After nine straight defeats they have now put back-to-back wins together, and it was Cody Walker who crossed for the opener after taking on the line. Wade Graham hit back but a penalty goal kept Souths ahead until Joe Burgess came up with a brilliant finish in the final minute to seal the win, not long after he had bombed a try in the same corner. Cronulla will need to win both of their remaining games if they are to finish at the top of the ladder and will be looking to go into the finals in a richer vein of form.