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The Roar

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Spoon contenders take advantage of backfiring teams, while the Chooks and Bunnies play out a finals preview

The Cowboys host the Eels. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Expert
10th August, 2018
46

Round 22 of the NRL began on Thursday night with a spirited 34-30 win for the Cowboys over Brisbane. It continued a recent run of victories for the bottom four clubs on the ladder.

At the time of writing, Parramatta, Manly, Canterbury and North Queensland had seven victories between them over the three most recent rounds.

With another win certain when the Eagles and Dogs do battle tonight, and the Eels a real shot against the Dragons at ANZ immediately following, it is looking like a meritorious conclusion to the season for all four.

Of course, things could yet slip away for one or more of those involved in the race to avoid the spoon, yet all appear to be playing far superior football to that which they produced earlier in the year.

In all four cases, the less said about their starts to season 2018 the better.

Those wins have also taken on extra significance, with wins to the Bulldogs, Cowboys and Eagles threatening to jeopardise the top four aspirations of the Broncos and Cronulla.

With the eight looking well set, unless the Tigers can manage to claw past a couple of teams with back firing engines, the bottom four have the chance to play spoiler.

The Cowboys inflicted a telling loss to a team with top four hopes, edging the Broncos at 1300 Smiles Stadium. In an attacking and open game that saw eight tries in total, the home side skipped clear and looked more prepared for battle on the night.

The Cowboys built a 14-2 lead on the back of tries to Gideon Gela-Mosby and Jason Taumalolo.

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Jason Taumalolo North Queensland Cowboys NRL Rugby League Grand Final 2017

Jason Taumalolo of the Cowboys (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Brisbane responded with four pointers to James Roberts and Matt Lodge before a sequence of penalty goals saw the Cowboys take an 18-16 lead to the break.

The second half was a complete reversal of the first, with the Broncos dominating the scoreboard early. Two tries and a penalty goal established a twelve-point lead at the 60th minute.

Then, the Broncos blew a gasket as Kyle Feldt, Gavin Cooper and Coen Hess all crossed the line to set up a spirited win for Australia’s northern-most team.

In context, it was only their sixth win of the season, whereas the Broncos were seeking a 13th to get their top four ambitions back on track after a poor loss against the Bulldogs last week.

Two losses to the bottom four in a fortnight will have Wayne Bennett frustrated with inconsistency. As his coaching future circles above the club and his own head, his team are playing in a staccato, unfocussed and distracted manner that might just be a reflection of his own state of mind.

There are at least three or four other coaches experiencing the same uncertainty as we speak and the potential impact it has on their teams could be telling.

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There was no such issue for the Warriors, as Stephen Kearney has his troops well on their way to the finals and starting to look ever more dangerous.

Their 20-4 victory over the Knights at Mt Smart Stadium was far from a demolition, yet did feature a more clinical and disciplined edge that has long been the Achilles heel of the men from the shaky isles.

Warriors fans should be far more impressed with the current hard-nosed determination of the team than any high-scoring, off-loading wins of years past.

As professional and Melbourne-like as it may sound, the Warriors are maturing, winning a little ugly at times and becoming a serious threat.

Shaun Johnson runs the football.

Shaun Johnson of the Warriors (AAP Image/SNPA, Martin Hunter)

Late Friday, the Bunnies and the Chooks went head to head for eighty minutes and belted the tripe out of each other for the duration.

An early hamstring injury to Alex Johnston threatened to derail the night for South Sydney, yet they re-adjusted and made a serious contest of a game in which the Roosters looked likely to prevail for much of the night.

Penalty goals either way and tries to James Tedesco and Adam Reynolds saw a sharing of honours in the first half, with the Roosters shading Souths 10-8 at the break.

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Tries to Joseph Manu and Hymel Hunt kept things tight until late in the game, as the Roosters held a narrow four point lead into the final ten minutes.

The Rabbitohs threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the tri-colours in the final stages yet the new competition leaders held their nerve and line and survived 18-14.

There was enough evidence to suggest that it might not be the last time the two inner-city Sydney teams meet this season.

If these teams are to meet in a final, it might be a decent idea to organise a ticket. Aside from the Melbourne Storm, they look to be the cream of the crop in 2018.