Hits and Misses: Key injuries rock finals-bound teams

This week we take a look at the awfully high number of key players injured over the weekend, relive the launch of Reece Walsh in Canberra, welcome back the Storm's man with the mullet, and wonder why Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt was allowed to park his boot in Sean O'Sullivan's mouth.

Read on as we take a look back at some of the biggest hits and misses of the weekend.


Round 25 carnage as too many stars are injured

The penultimate round of the NRL season was an ugly one when it came to injuries to key players. It all started badly on Thursday night when Panthers five-eighth Jarome Luai dived over to score a try, but had the ball held up as his entire weight and that of tackler Bryce Cartwright came down on his hyperextended left shoulder. He left the field with a dislocation, which they were able to put straight back in, and his recovery period is uncertain at this stage.

On Friday night with the Warriors battling the stubborn Dragons five-eighth Luke Metcalf hobbled off with a hamstring strain. Metcalf has been a revelation for the Warriors this year and they can hardly afford to go into the finals without him.

On Saturday it was the Storm's turn with star halfback Jahrome Hughes clutching at a knee as he left the field to have a bag of ice strapped to his leg. Later that evening Roosters star Joey Manu pulled up in the in-goal area reaching for his hamstring. Then in the final game of the day, Reece Walsh was in obvious discomfort toward the end of the Broncos' win over the Raiders grasping at a knee.

On Sunday, after throwing a brilliant pass that led to another Knights try, fullback Kalyn Ponga was flattened by Sharks centre Jesse Ramien. Ponga landed heavily on his shoulder and early indications are that he may have sustained some AC damage. The good news filtered through on Monday that he should be fine to resume his game-breaking brilliance for the Knights.

This group of players are not only vital to their teams' hopes in the upcoming finals, their absences will detract from the quality of the games they would have starred in. Let's hope as many as possible can make it back as soon as possible.


If you're injured, get off the field, Walshy

With 19 seconds remaining in the enthralling clash between the Broncos and Raiders, an obviously lame Reece Walsh chased back to regather a poorly executed kick ahead by Jordan Rapana. He pulled up and stood still with a pained look on his face, grasping at his injured knee.

Raiders prop Joseph Tapine was having none of that, he lined Walsh up and launched himself like he was taking aim at a tackling bag at training. Walsh was propelled into the air like an unsuspecting seal hit by a great white shark.

Walsh's teammates didn't appreciate the completely legal tackle and a mass push and shove ensued as the clock wound down on the impressive Broncos victory.


Cowboys winger was kung-fu fighting

When winger Kyle Feldt dived over in the corner after 14 minutes to score the Cowboys' second try of the night, there were plenty of Dolphins fans and players who were more than a little upset. At the beginning of that possession, Feldt had leapt to take a bomb, leaving his boot thrust forward as he came down. Dolphins halfback Sean O'Sullivan, chasing through on his own kick, copped a mouthful of molded studs.

With blood trickling from his mouth and chin O'Sullivan protested in muffled tones that Feldt wasn't allowed to do that. The match officials decided it was accidental and play should continue. The Cowboys marched downfield, with the help of a six again call, before Feldt's try was scored on the end of some slick passing.

The boot to the face brought back memories of a period of time when Melbourne Storm's superstar fullback Billy Slater came down from several high takes looking like a ninja, with his leg thrust forward. The contact might be accidental, but the positioning of the boot is unnecessary, and completely under the control of the player. It is extremely dangerous and needs to be punished out of the game, as it eventually was with Slater.


The Pap is back!

A crowd of 18,072 gathered at AAMI Park to see the Storm play the Titans on Saturday afternoon. Scattered through the stands were fans wearing blonde mullet wigs. They were there to see their hero Ryan Papenhuyzen return to first grade having played a handful of lower grade games after 14 months out of the game. The star fullback, wearing the No.19 jersey, sat on the bench waiting for the call from coach Craig Bellamy.

The Storm went to halftime leading 18-10 against a feisty Gold Coast side, with Papenhuyzen not required.

With 19 minutes to go, the man with the mullet rose from the bench to the roar of the crowd and jogged out with his team leading 18-16. The crowd roared again as he took his first run, jinking and stepping before rising to play the ball quickly. Nick Meaney stayed at fullback, Papenhuyzen continued loitering around the ruck looking for a chance to split the Titans open.

He had few opportunities in attack, but nearly earned the ire of the officials with a tackle on Kieran Foran. Papenhuyzen clocked the Titans veteran, who stayed down, but didn't receive a penalty. Foran's time on the turf was enough for the independent doctor to demand he come off for a HIA, and he let the referee know what he thought of that as he left the field.

After the game Papenhuyzen was keen to thank his many supporters.

"It was awesome, the crowd was really loud. I saw a couple of Matildas games and that was loud, but I really want to thank the crowd today for their support," he said.

"I felt really good, I came on when the Titans boys were tired and tried to work my magic."

Storm fans will be hoping he can be back to his best for the upcoming finals.


Sloan's lackadaisical effort gifts Fonua-Blake a second shot at a try

Warriors prop Addin Fonua-Blake crashed over under the posts in the first half against the Dragons after a beautifully worked passing play. Once converted the try would have taken the Warriors to a 16-0 lead, in what looked like being a big home ground win. But Fonua-Blake was turtled momentarily by the Dragons defender and as he rolled back to place the ball it came loose from his grasp. On review, it was ruled no try.

With four minutes remaining in the game and the Dragons right in the contest, Warriors half Sean Johnson put an innocuous grubber into the in-goal area, looking for a goal-line drop out. Dragons fullback Tyrell Sloan led the race easily and looked to have forced the ball before Fonua-Blake came through and grounded it himself. To everyone's surprise, the referee awarded a try to Fonua-Blake, suggesting that Sloan had attempted to pick the ball up rather than ground it. The replays showed that the referee was right, Sloan had inexplicably attempted to pick the ball up on the run and much like the claw in an amusement arcade machine, his hands slipped off and he came up empty.

Once converted the try took the Warriors to a 16-6 lead, the blow-out victory never eventuated as the Dragons put up another fighting effort to ultimately go down 18-6.


Defeated Tigers putting in right till the very end

With their season all but over, and down 32-8 against the Roosters, you could have forgiven the Tigers for packing it up for the night.

The Roosters passed the ball wide inside their own half and Sandon Smith made a break, racing away downfield. As the fullback loomed Smith kicked the ball inside off the outside of his right boot. There were plenty of Roosters players chasing and as it bounced up neatly on the goal line it would have been a certain try if not for the half dozen Tigers players giving all they had left in pursuit.

The Tigers may have wrapped up back-to-back wooden spoons with the loss, but at times they put in the kind of effort which new coach Benji Marshall would have been looking for, as he plans a 2024 resurgence.