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Top four NRL battle marred by baffling Bunker call

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A controversial Bunker call has cost North Queensland dearly in their loss to Cronulla while Parramatta did it easy against the Warriors. 

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Sharks 26 def Cowboys 12

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A controversial no-try to North Queensland’s Jason Taumalolo has left the Cowboys scratching their heads following their 26-12 loss to Cronulla.

With the Sharks leading 14-12 shortly after halftime, Taumalolo appeared to have scored one of the solo tries of the season when he busted through the Cronulla defence from 20 metres out to touch down under the posts. 

But the Bunker denied the try, ruling Sharks prop Toby Rudolf was obstructed in the lead up.

From the ensuing set, the Sharks scored through backrower Teig Wilton.

Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt told Grandstand after the game he was perplexed by the decision. 

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“Yeah, I didn’t even think it was obstruction. It’s touch and go that rule nowadays,” Feldt said. 

“In the first half we were hard done by by one of their tries. Hessy got taken out and they classed it as initiating contact.

“It’s not black and white, it’s a gray area in our game at the moment. But we’ve just got to live with it.”

In the top-four showdown, it was the Sharks who made all the running against a Cowboys team missing six of their regular starting side.

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The Cowboys were without Tom Dearden, Valentine Holmes, Jeremiah Nanai when they were rested after State of Origin while Murray Taulagi wasn’t named because of COVID-19 protocols.

Reuben Cotter and Jordan McLean are still sidelined with hamstring injuries, gifting the Sharks a golden opportunity to shore up a place inside the top four.

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And the visitors accepted their chances with open arms to now sit third on the premiership table after powering to their fifth consecutive win.

They are equal on 26 points with the second-placed Cowboys and will continue their chase for a top-two berth in a tantalising clash with ladder leaders Penrith next week.

Cronulla winger Sione Katoa the iced the game in the 69th minute when he blitzed through a hole from a 30-metre scrum inside the Sharks’ half to put the result beyond doubt.

His try backed up Wilton’s four-pointer 10 minutes earlier.

That 12-point turnaround was the dagger in a gassed Cowboys side whose streak at home ends at five consecutive wins.

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Eels 28 def Warriors 18

Parramatta remain in the race for an all-important NRL top-four spot by accounting for the Warriors 28-18 at CommBank Stadium.

At virtually full strength, the Eels were made to work for their victory by the Warriors, whose preparations were disrupted by a non-COVID sickness that swept through camp during the week.

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But the New Zealanders had reason for positivity heading into Friday night’s game. They returned to Auckland for a win before the bye and had unveiled Andrew Webster as their new coach for 2023.

The Warriors’ confidence was evident in their defence early. The Eels were tackled 25 times in their 20 metre zone and forced three drop-outs before they could finally score.

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When centre Waqa Blake broke through, his four-pointer marked the first time since round seven that Parramatta had crossed the tryline before their opponent.

Maika Sivo snaffled a wayward Shaun Johnson pass and streaked away 10 minutes later, teaming up with Blake for his second and the Warriors were 10 points in arrears.

But the Warriors refused to fold.

They struck back through Marcelo Montoya and remained in the contest after the break, thanks in no small part to ill discipline from both sides.

In the first 10 minutes of the second half, the referee blew his whistle for four errors, two penalties and two ruck infringements but the Eels were better equipped to rise from the mire and reignite their attack.

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Seven members of Parramatta’s forward pack finished with over 100 run metres, laying the platform for a 15-minute period of dominance that saw the Eels home.

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Isaiah Papali’i’s reported indecision about honouring his Wests Tigers contract made news this week but the headlines didn’t stop him from barging through with the try that set the Eels on the path for victory.

The win will be crucial to Parramatta’s hopes of securing a top-four spot, especially given their tough draw to round the season out.

In their final seven regular season games, the Eels face only one side that are not currently in the top eight but are now only outside of the top four on points differential.

The Warriors were already at long odds to play finals football but their latest loss all but confirms they will watch from afar.

By the end of the round, they could be as many as four wins out of the top eight and only one win off the bottom of the ladder, pending other results.

AAP

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