The NRL wrap: Round 26

Thanks Cozza
Corey Parker was given a fitting farewell at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night, as the Brisbane Broncos skipper helped his side fight from behind to beat a determined Sydney Roosters 24-14. Dale Copley was the star last time these two sides met and he opened the scoring for the Roosters against his former side. Connor Watson gave them a 14-0 advantage before a great break from Corey Oates saw him race from his own in-goal to 20 metres out from his opponent’s try-line. From the resulting play Antony Milford darted over, and they were back in the game when Daniel Tupou gifted James Roberts a try. They then hit the lead in the second half as Roberts sent Jordan Kahu over in space, before the two combined again from a spectacular effort which sealed the win. After the Roosters coughed up possession, Roberts pounced and raced down the touch line before kicking back inside for his wing partner to grab a second. The win meant that Parker will be given another chance to lead out the Broncos in front of home support in the finals.

Burgess bows out in style
Joe Burgess ended his time in the NRL with a brace in South Sydney Rabbitohs’ 28-10 win over Canterbury Bulldogs, as he heads home to Wigan for 2017. It was their fourth straight win but their turn around in form has come too late as they have missed out on the finals, however they did deny the Bulldogs a chance of making the top four. The hosts opened the scoring through Josh Jackson, before Sam Burgess replied with a similar effort. Joe then grabbed his first, racing the length of the field, with Josh Reynolds scoring a breakaway effort of his own. Souths saw the game out with a late flurry as Aaron Gray grabbed a four-minute double, with Cody Walker’s kick for the corner finding Burgess in the final minute to round off the scoring. Des Hasler will be concerned by his side’s form heading into knock-out football, and will be aware that no side has even won the competition after heading into the finals off the back of three straight losses.

Widdop sinks Knights
A last-minute penalty goal from Gareth Widdop denied Newcastle a chance to end their losing run, as Jeremy Smith and Ben Creagh bid farewell to the sport. Smith may look back in despair though, as he gave away the penalty which led to the defeat after Mitchell Barnett had levelled the contest with a brilliant solo effort. Benji Marshall was recalled for St George Illawarra Dragons, and when their attack eventually clicked they looked dangerous, with Joel Thompson and Jason Nightingale crossing for a double a piece. Newcastle will look to take positives from a disappointing season which saw them pick up just one win, and end 2016 with an 18th straight defeat.

Cowboys clinch fourth
North Queensland Cowboys went into their clash with Gold Coast needing a win to sneak into the top four, and they delivered with a 32-16 win at 1300 Smiles Stadium. Justin O’Neil and Antonio Winterstein profited from kicks to put the hosts 12-0 up, with David Mead coming up with a huge shot in between those scores before being forced from the field. Mead returned and with his first touch outjumped his opposite number to score and put his side within a converted try at the break. Gavin Cooper sold an outrageous dummy to extend the lead, however Ryan James found a way over from close range to dummy half to become the highest scoring prop forward in a single season in NRL history. Front rower James Tamou proved that he knows his way to the try line with a score of his own, and Cooper sealed the win with his second after Konrad Hurrell raced the length of the field to score. The Titans were left to sweat on the outcome of Wests Tigers’ clash with Canberra Raiders to see if they had made the finals.

Storm secure minor premiership
Melbourne Storm clinched the minor premiership with a comfortable 26-6 win over Cronulla at a packed AAMI Park. Storm have won all seven meetings of the clubs at the venue, and confirmed that they will host North Queensland Cowboys in the finals with the victory. The visitors lost Joseph Paulo and Chris Heighington during the contest as they threw everything they could at a stubborn Storm defence. Marika Koroibete was in brilliant form in defence and attack, with his try-saving tackle on Valentine Holmes as good as you’ll see this year. On the opposite wing Suliasi Vunivalu scored his 22nd try of the season, breaking Israel Folau’s record for most tries in a debut NRL season. Cheyse Blair grabbed a double for the hosts before the record breaking score from Vunivalu, as he pounced on Sosaia Feki’s knock on in the in-goal. Gerard Beale gave Cronulla some hope as they finally found their way over the try line on 68 minutes, however Jesse Bromwich sealed the win and top spot with a late score.

Raiders sneak into second
With Cronulla losing to Melbourne, the Canberra Raiders had an opportunity to secure a home tie in the first week of the finals, while their opponents Wests Tigers needed a win to make the eight. It wasn’t to be for Wests though, as they gave Robbie Farah a half-time farewell and were comfortably beaten by the NRL’s form side. Josh Hodgson had another great game, laying on two first half tries before darting over for one of his own from dummy half. Jordan Rapana grabbed a double, with the first coming from an incredible flick pass from Joseph Leilua, as his centre partner also crossed in the win. It is now 10 straight victories for the Green Machine going into week one of the finals, however they will be sweating on the outcome of Jack Wighton’s trip to the disciplinary for a shoulder charge in the second half. Fans packed out Leichardt Oval trying to cheer their team on to a crucial win, but the Raiders were too strong. The Tigers did find their way over for two tries from Josh Aloiai and Tim Grant, but it wasn’t enough to prevent their season from coming to an end with a disappointing 52-10 defeat.

French fancy
Parramatta rounded off an eventful 2016 with a convincing win over the NRL’s nearly men, New Zealand Warriors, as they picked up a 40-18 win in Auckland. Bevan French was the star once again, in a game which matter little in the context of the ladder, as the rookie fullback scored an 11 minute hat-trick to kill off the hosts’ chances of a victory. Veteran hooker Isaac De Gois was also in for a double, with both being handed to him on a plate, as his second came from the result of the Eels overturning a scrum on the Warriors’ try line. It had started brightly for the hosts, as they were 12-0 up inside the first six minutes with tries from Manu Vatuvei and Simon Mannering, and although Mannering went on to score a second after the half hour mark they couldn’t trouble the scoreboard in the second period. Michael Jennings rounded off the contest with a try three minutes from time, to bring the curtain down on both team’s season.

Potent Panthers
Penrith’s attacking prowess saw them secure a place in the finals last week, and this week it saw them secure sixth spot in the ladder in a comfortable 36-6 victory over Manly. It was a perfect half from the hosts which killed the game, as they scored 30 unanswered points to go into the break with the game already won. Josh Mansour scored the opening and closing try of the first period, with his second coming from a deft kick from Bryce Cartwright, who had scored a try of his own after 21 minutes. Matt Moylan was the architect of the Panthers’ attack and he sent Peter Wallace over moments after Dallin Watene Zelezniak had finished off a length of the field move. Waqa Blake was too strong from close range five minutes into the second period, and after an hour the Sea Eagles finally broke their deadlock through Tom Trbojevic. That was the last score of the game, and of the regular NRL season, as Penrith will now face Canterbury Bulldogs at Allianz Stadium in week one of the finals.

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