Melbourne on top again in rapidly changing NRL
SYDNEY (AP) — Defending champion Melbourne rallied from 8-0 down at halftime to beat Gold Coast 10-8 and to reclaim outright first place in Australia’s National Rugby league after the weekend’s penultimate regular season round.
Champion fullback Billy Slater ran for a career-high 289 minutes in his last NRL game in Queensland as Melbourne overcame a sloppy first half to move two points clear atop the table, closing on another minor premiership.
North Queensland opened their halftime lead with a converted try to A.J. Brimson and a penalty. Led by Slater and Cameron Smith, who overcame a back injury to make 44 tackles, Melbourne rallied with a 45th minute try to Curtis Scott before hitting the lead with a Cameron Munster try 20 minutes from fulltime.
Coach Craig Bellamy said injuries and suspensions make it difficult to judge Melbourne’s true form “but it’s just the way it is so we have to find a way. We’ve got another couple of weeks so hopefully we find that consistency and can be very competitive (in the playoffs).”
Melbourne rose to the top of the table amid a constantly changing playoffs picture in which top-four places remain in contention. The Sydney Roosters stayed in second place despite a 22-8 loss to Brisbane and Souths remained third after losing 24-12 to Canberra.
Cronulla held the last top four place with a 38-12 win over Newcastle while St. George Illawarra dropped back to fifth, a game behind, after a crushing 38-0 loss to the Bulldogs in the last match of the round. Reimiss Smith scored a hattrick of tries for the Bulldogs.
Penrith held onto sixth place despite a 36-16 loss to the New Zealand Warriors who clinched a playoffs spot for the first time in seven years. Brisbane and the Warriors, in seventh and eighth places, confirmed their places in the playoffs at the expense of Wests who couldn’t improve on ninth place despite a 22-20 win over Manly.
Final placings still remain to be decided with only four points covering the first to eighth-placed teams ahead of next weekend’s final round.