The NRL’s contenders have made their mark in round 23, with some frankly ridiculous scorelines over the past two days.
After Penrith won a thrilling Thursday night encounter against the in-form Rabbitohs 26-22, the next five games over Friday and Saturday were won by an average of 45.6 points, with every victorious team notching at least 40 points.
The Roosters wrapped things up on Saturday night with an outlandish 72-6 win over the Tigers, to go with big victories for the Eels and Sharks, which themselves followed incredibly lopsided scorelines in favour of the Cowboys and Storm on Friday night.
It means the teams chasing the Panthers — the sides running second to fifth, plus the ominous Roosters — all gave their for-and-against tallies huge injections of points heading into the final two rounds of the regular season.
None bigger than the Roosters though, who jumped over Brisbane and South Sydney — the only top-eight teams to lose this week — from eighth to sixth by beating the Tigers so convincingly.
Hard-working Nat Butcher netted a surprise four-try haul, fellow back-rower Angus Crichton helped himself to two, as did winger Daniel Tupou.
James Tedesco, Connor Watson and Drew Hutchison also chimed in, while the Tigers’ only try came from a Brent Naden intercept when the game was already decided in the 73rd minute.
Already looking likely to win the wooden spoon as they sit last on the ladder heading into the final two rounds, the Tigers’ job will be made that much harder by an almost guaranteed suspension for captain James Tamou.
The prop was sin-binned for dissent in the final minute of the game when he shouted at referee Ben Cummins for allowing the Roosters to play on after an apparent knock-on at dummy-half, but Tamou escalated things on his way off the field.
He screamed in Cummins’s face that he was “f***ing incompetent”, prompting the referee to immediately upgrade the sin-binning to a send-off, with a trip to the judiciary all but certain and a suspension potentially ending his career.
After the game Tamou said he wanted to apologise to Cummins.
“[Referees] do a terrific job. Emotions got the better of me. I’ll wear any criticism. The actions aren’t acceptable,” he told reporters.
“I probably took the easy way out instead of shaking [the Roosters’] hands and looking them in the eye.”
With all the top-eight teams having played this week, here’s how the ladder looks heading into the final two rounds of the season:
Check out how the other Saturday games unfolded below, with the Sharks and Eels recording easy wins.
Sharks keep pace with fellow top-four sides
The Sharks chimed in with their own dominant performance on finals eve, hammering the Sea Eagles 40-6 at Brookvale.
It moved Cronulla past the Storm into third place, just behind the Cowboys on points differential, but with a great run home — hosting the Bulldogs next week and travelling to Newcastle to end the regular season.
It is a comfortably easier end to the season than any of the other contenders for the top four — Penrith, North Queensland, Melbourne and Parramatta — who all face finals-bound teams at least once in their final fortnight.
With the Cowboys up against South Sydney and Penrith to end the season, the Sharks will be hopeful of leapfrogging them for second and getting a home final to start the playoffs, particularly after dismantling 10th-placed Manly so completely.
The Sharks had already scored all 40 of their points, with halfback Nicho Hynes and late call-up on the wing Matt Ikuvalu doubling up, by the time the Sea Eagles got on the board.
That came from an opportunistic intercept by Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans, but the overall effort will have pleased Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon as he readies his side for the finals.
One concern for the rookie mentor is the fitness of lock and forward leader Dale Finucane, who suffered a painful rib injury early in the game.
“It was the first six or seven minutes of the game, I copped a tackle and popped the rib cartilage a bit,” Finucane told ABC Sport.
“As soon as I got the needle I was all good to come back on.”
Finucane only played 23 minutes of the match and will be watched closely this week.
Eels show out against Bulldogs with finals looming
Parramatta halves Dylan Brown and Mitchell Moses had the ball on a string at Western Sydney Stadium as the Eels made a welcome return to the winners’ circle with a hefty 42-6 victory over Canterbury.
After setting up two tries, Brown scored a double of his own, making himself a constant menace for Bulldogs defenders.
Moses was back early from finger surgery and Brown must have been glad he heals quickly. The Eels halfback set up both of Brown’s four-pointers with deft kicks and the pair also had four line-break assists between them.
It was an eight-tries-to-one thumping and a must-win with top-eight sides Brisbane (at Lang Park) and Melbourne (home) next up as the regular season draws to a close.
“I thought our start was really good, thought we maintained that physicality for 80 minutes. I know what this team can do … but what I need to see is the ‘want’ from them,” Eels coach Brad Arthur said.
“The want was really there today but we’ve got to make sure we back that up again next week.
“We’ve showed in the big games what we can do but it’s that want and desire to do it all the time.”
Parramatta needed a win to all but clinch their finals spot with ninth-placed Canberra four points behind them at kick-off.
They also wanted to erase the memories of last week’s 26-0 shellacking by South Sydney.
Scoring some spectacular team tries certainly helped as they leap-frogged the Rabbitohs into fifth spot on the ladder.
Canterbury remain 12th, wondering why they could not provide more resistance in the second half as they were only down by 10 at the break.
“We were impatient. We threw the ball away. We didn’t smother their last plays and we just didn’t build any pressure,” Bulldogs coach Mick Potter said.
Canterbury captain Josh Jackson said the way the Eels moved them around and made them defend for long periods would work well come finals time.
“If they play that style of footy they’ll trouble a lot of teams,” Jackson said.