NRL Round 3 Hits and Misses: Stone's bittersweet moment

There were plenty of incidents to report on out of what was another enthralling weekend of NRL action. Parramatta's Ray Stone was both thrilled and distraught following his match-winning effort, while we saw an incredible fightback from the Raiders, a Cherry-Evans special and Kurt Mann's embarrassing misdiagnosis.

We take a look back at some of the biggest hits and misses of the weekend.


Ray Stone's bittersweet match-winner

Heading into Saturday night's crunch match against premiership heavyweights Melbourne, Eels prop Ray Stone had scored two career tries in 30 matches across four seasons.

It's hard to imagine a more unlikely try-scoring hero winning the game for Parramatta with two late four-pointers -- the first with 10 minutes left in regular time and the second to win the game in golden point.

Stone was the man who chased down Mitch Moses's field goal attempt, took the ricochet, beat the final defender with a step off his right foot and planted down the winning try -- suffering what has now been confirmed was a season-ending ACL tear in the process. His next NRL appearance will be in a Dolphins' jersey as he starts his tenure at the expansion club from 2023.

Canberra's incredible comeback

Things were going badly for the Raiders last week when they were thumped by 20 by the Cowboys after losing star hooker Josh Hodgson for the rest of his final season with the club, and it appeared they were only getting worse when they fell behind 22-0 against the Titans on Saturday.

What followed was one of the all-time great comebacks, with young halfback Brad Schneider and star five-eighth Jack Wighton engineering a stunning 24-point run as the Green Machine gave their home crowd something to smile about with a stunning win.

Hodgson's replacement Tom Starling was bumped to the bench before kick-off but was a menace out of dummy-half during the comeback, with a line break, three tackle busts, two offloads and 91 metres from eight runs.

Daly's ugly duck does enough

Daly Cherry-Evans nailed the 24th field goal of his career to take the Sea Eagles to their first victory of the season, defeating a determined Bulldogs team at a very soggy Brookvale.

Having had a previous attempt to break the 12-12 deadlock charged down just minutes earlier, Cherry-Evans nonchalantly dropped the ball in front of his right boot from 20 metres out and sent an ugly duck on a wobbly flight. It barely cleared the cross bar, but was enough to wrap up the much-needed two competition points.

Most NRL games are competitive again

It's so refreshing to have interesting, close games of footy back in the NRL. We predicted an increase in close games in the offseason and welcomed the return of upsets after Round 1, but it's still a welcome change to have so many games going down to the wire in 2022 after repeated blowouts last season.

So far this season 12 games have been decided by six points or less, after there were just six close contests in the first three rounds of 2021. Meanwhile there have been eight games decided by 13 points or more -- five fewer than this time last season.

In a sport that seemingly battles real and confected outrages on an almost weekly basis, the greatest crisis the NRL could have faced would have been fans switching off due to predictable, dull outcomes of matches. Thankfully, a tweak of the six-again rule appears to have fixed that problem.


Mitch Barnett's brain explosion

Everything was going right for the Newcastle Knights late in the first half against Penrith on Saturday, leading reigning premiers in a top-of-the-table clash in Bathurst -- until Mitch Barnett thrust an elbow to the head of Panthers forward Chris Smith off the ball.

Smith was taken from the field and Barnett was sent off, leaving his team a man short for the majority of the contest. The Panthers made the most of the 13-on-12 advantage and ran out comfortable 38-20 winners.

Barnett will almost certainly cop a lengthy suspension for his moment of madness, and with the Knights already struggling with a few injuries in the forwards it's an incident that threatens to derail what had been a dream start to the season for Newcastle.

A hit that was missed for Kurt Mann

Halfway through the first half Knights back-rower Kurt Mann went in for a tackle and copped an accidental kick to the nether regions. It was clearly an eye-watering blow, as Mann struggled to regain his composure as play continued. Down on his haunches several times Mann was attended to by a trainer, who could offer little more than a drink of water and a sympathetic ear, as is the case with such injuries.

Mann looked incredulous moments later when the referee pulled up play to send him from the field for a HIA. It appears the doctor in the bunker had mistaken Mann's symptoms for that of a head knock. Surely it is the greatest example yet of why the neutral doctor has to be on the sideline when making these important calls. Even if the initial contact was missed, a quick word to Mann would have cleared up the source of his discomfort.

Asofa-Solomona dodges suspension, somehow

While Barnett is facing a lengthy ban, the same can't be said for Melbourne Storm prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona -- despite catching Eels forward Makahesi Makatoa with a high, late swinging arm from behind while Makatoa was being tackled by two other Storm players.

It's less than a year since the NRL announced and carried out a crackdown on high tackles, leading to automatic sin-bins for even incidental contact with the head. In the midst of that crackdown, Asofa-Solomona's hit probably would've resulted in a send-off and a lengthy ban.

Yet under the new NRL match review system -- announced out of the blue on the day the 2022 season kicked off -- the towering prop was hit with a grade one high tackle charge which results in only a fine.

The new judiciary system not only lowered the punishments for several offences but also wiped clean the records of all players, an odd idea at the time which is surely going to lead to more questionable results like this one.

Lazy Lane's almost instant redemption

Misses don't come much bigger than Shaun Lane's attempted tackle on a charging Brandon Smith with four minutes to go in the Eels' clash with the Storm in Melbourne. On the last tackle just inside their own half Storm five-eighth Cameron Munster shaped for a clearing kick before firing the pass to Smith. He dummied, straightened and accelerated, beating a feeble attempt from Lane who was caught flat-footed. Smith found Munster in support, who in turn found Ryan Papenhuyzen, who raced away to score a try which, when converted, levelled the scores at 24.

Lane could have hung his head in shame, he could have been hooked by coach Brad Arthur, but then he wouldn't have enjoyed his glorious moment of redemption. With the minutes fading and the Storm on the attack following another Waqa Blake dropped ball, Papenhuyzen lined up for the match winning field goal. Lane charged through and stretched out his extensive frame to block the kick. It allowed the game to go into golden point extra time, where Ray Stone worked his magic.