Both the Gold Coast Titans and the St George Illawarra Dragons came into Sunday's clash down on their luck.
The home side had lost their last five matches, while the visitors had won only two of their last 10 appearances. If the spirit and resolve of these two clubs had been knocked around by this recent run of outs, it certainly didn't show in the effort levels of the players involved in this match.
One thing we can safely say about these two sides is that they have no "give up" in them. It was obvious from the opening kick-off that both clubs had put a high price on these two competition points and were prepared to give their all in the pursuit of victory.
The result was a fiercely contested match, with the end result in the balance, right up until the full-time siren. It wasn't perfect rugby league by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly was entertaining.
This description of the match could also apply in the analysis of the two opposing halfbacks who went round for their respective teams. All eyes were on Gold Coast's Daniel Mortimer and Dragon's new playmaker Benji Marshall.
Both are making comebacks of sorts. Both had moments of brilliance. Both lads created opportunities and scoring plays for their teams. It's also fair to say, both players had moments they'd rather forget. Like I said: not perfect, but entertaining.
Mortimer slotted into halfback for the Titans after a mid-season move to the Gold Coast from defending premiers Sydney Roosters. This young man only had a couple of training sessions with his new team in preparation for this match. All things considered, I felt he actually did a wonderful job for his side on the day. The Titans have a scintillating backline that has failed to deliver this season, primarily due to poor service and inconsistency in the halves combinations.
Judging by his competent performance in this match on such a limited preparation, Mortimer looks a nice fix for this dilemma. He certainly gave the side better direction. The delivery of the ball to key edge runners and outside fliers looked swift and timely. As they spend more time together, I think this combination could develop nicely. Mortimer was also heavily targeted by the opposition forwards. The Dragon big men charged at Mortimer all match, forcing the little bloke to make 29 tackles. But he handled things quite well.
Well, Benji was Benji. He set up the first try for the Dragons with an exquisite short pass to edge back-rower Leeson Ah Mau. When in a similar position a short time later, Marshall decided to pass long to the outside support players, but this time was intercepted by the Gold Coast winger Kevin Gordon who raced 90 metres to score at the other end of the field. And so it continued for Benji all afternoon. One good play followed by one bad play. One constructive kick followed by a shocker of a kick. One great catch and pass followed by the most simple of dropped balls. One minute he was taunting the opposition's defensive line, the next he was confusing his own teammates. Sometimes he went forward and made great inroads. Next time he was across-field or heading backwards. It was all happening.
In all seriousness though, I think Benji's return to play rugby league for the Dragons will help the team's cause.
At the very least he has taken the pressure off new five-eighth Gareth Widdop, who, prior to Marshsll's arrival, had been something of the Lone Ranger. The extra attention Marshall draws, allows Widdop extra time and space to go about his business. It certainly showed to advantage yesterday with Widdop producing the winning play and a man-of-the-match performance. Away from the playmakers, the rest of the game was simply effort upon effort from the toilers in both teams, who refused to give an inch.
The Dragons probably had better ball control at vital times of the contest and this allowed them to navigate the tense run to the finish line slightly better than their opponents. I had no idea which team was going to win prior to the match. At half-time I still had no idea. The result was still in the balance with 30 seconds to play. If these two sides played each other again next week, I'd still have no real opinion which team would prevail. Hence the one-point winning margin to the Dragons was probably a fair result. Both sides will cause their fair share of headaches to all other contenders as we make the run to the finals. Whether these teams can qualify for the finals remains to be seen.
It was entertaining, though. I enjoyed it.
The story Benji Marshall and Daniel Mortimer show they can be the real deal first appeared on WA Today.