By Martin Gabor (NRL.com)
In an era where set plays produce the most points, nothing gets the fans going more than an unstructured movement that starts 100 metres away from the try line. There were some cracking long-range efforts in 2016.
Here are six of the best from the 2016 season.
6. Ben Barba (Round 6, Sharks v Titans)
The 2012 Dally M winner had us thinking we'd gone back in time with his 92-metre effort against the Titans on a picture-perfect afternoon in the Shire. Ash Taylor's cross-field kick was spectacularly batted back by Titans winger Anthony Don; the only problem was the ball went straight to the Sharks. James Maloney had first crack at the loose ball, but after he failed to reel it in, Barba sensed his moment and went for it. It looked as if Nene MacDonald would chase down the livewire fullback, but with 30 metres to go, Barba put on a vicious right-foot step to swerve away from the Titans winger to leave him in his wake. With a smile on his face, Barba spun around as he reached the try line to admire his good work before planting the ball down to give his side the early lead.
5. Valentine Holmes (Round 14, Sharks v Cowboys)
Things looked to be going pear shaped for the Sharks as they found themselves trailing the defending champions 8-0 nearing the half-hour mark. The Cowboys looked set to extend that lead when they fed a scrum 10 metres out and quickly shifted the ball to their left. Michael Morgan could have gone himself; he instead went long. The play backfired as Sharks winger Valentine Holmes plucked the Steeden out of the air, juggled it, and then set off for the Holy Grail. His race for glory hit a roadblock in the form of Lachlan Coote, but an inspired in-and-away in the middle of Shark Park put the Cowboys fullback in a spin and allowed Holmes a saloon passage to the try line. As someone who spent many Saturday nights at Southern Cross Group Stadium watching the eventual premiers in action, this was the play that drew the loudest cheer from the Cronulla faithful.
4. Waqa Blake (Round 24, Panthers v Wests Tigers)
It started with Matt Moylan questioning what he thought should have been a seven-tackle set after catching a bomb in-goal. Instead, the play finished with the Panthers celebrating a length-of-the-field stunner. After receiving a pass from his skipper, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak stepped on the gas, fended away from Tim Simona and exploded into the backfield. With Jordan Rankin in front of him, and support on his inside, the flying winger fooled all and sundry with a huge dummy that was bought by the Wests Tigers fullback. The job was still nowhere done as Josh Addo-Carr closed in with every stride, so Watene-Zelezniak drew in the speedster, before popping a pass around the corner to Waqa Blake who streaked away to get his side on the board.
3. Tim Simona (Round 1, Wests Tigers v Warriors)
There are always fireworks when these two teams come together, and their opening round meeting provided plenty of razzle-dazzle for fans of attacking footy. On a steamy day in Sydney's west, 60 points were scored in Campbelltown; Tim Simona's long-range effort certainly one for the highlight reel. Most teams would be content to head into the sheds with an 18-point buffer, but not the Wests Tigers. In the shadows of half-time, Kevin Naiqama danced his way down the right before popping a pass back inside to Simona near halfway. With nothing doing on the left, the Tigers centre surveyed his options, put on a goose step, and charged straight pass Warriors fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to cap an incredible 40 minutes for the hosts.
2. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Round 5, Roosters v Warriors)
What is it about players scoring against their former clubs? Sonny Bill Williams bagged a double the first time he took on the Bulldogs, Willie Mason did the same, scoring twice for the Roosters against the blue and whites, but the Tricolours received a reality check when Roger Tuivasa-Sheck burned them in a golden point thriller on the Central Coast. In what was a classic Sunday afternoon clash, the Roosters and Warriors couldn't be separated after 80 minutes – locked at 28-all following several lead-changes. It took just 60 seconds for the visitors to land the telling blow, and boy did it hurt the men from Bondi. A towering kick from Jackson Hastings looked to have put Tui Lolohea under pressure, but with several Roosters chasers bearing down on him, the Warriors winger leapt highest, evaded the would-be defenders, stepped past another, sped over halfway, beat one more Rooster, and then produced a lovely ball in traffic to send Tuivasa-Sheck on his way. The fullback still had plenty of work to do, and it looked as though Shaun Kenny-Dowall would bring him down, but a brutal fend close to the line ensured he would get there, thus breaking Roosters hearts all the way from Gosford to Sydney.
1. Semi Radradra (Round 15, Rabbitohs v Eels)
Driving next to a semi-trailer in Homebush on a Friday night is scary. Seeing one in full flight, however, is a thing of beauty. When Semi Radradra puts the foot down, he simply cannot be stopped, and that's a lesson the Rabbitohs learnt the hard way in the dying stages of their Round 15 clash at ANZ Stadium. The play started with a Hail Mary from Luke Keary that quickly turned into a Fail Mary that landed in the arms of the Eels winger. Still, with 90 metres and 13 South Sydney defenders in front of him, the movement should have ended then and there. It didn't. His first burst of speed left four Rabbitohs in his wake, while his second saw him surge past another handful of men in red and green. As he crossed halfway, Radradra still had two to beat, with a couple of teammates also looming up in support. A simple dummy threw one of the defenders off the scent, and with former Eels legend Peter Sterling screaming "Don't pass" from the commentary box, Radradra pinned the ears back to complete the jaw-dropping solo try.
Originally published at NRL.com.