There have been some big plays this season, huge plays in fact, but nothing has yet come close to a moment of absolute brilliance by Cowboys centre Justin O’Neill.
No, the moment I’m speaking of was not a length of the field try, nor a high-flying bomb diffusal, or even a ridiculous in and out movement to bamboozle the defence.
Let me set the context here because, on the surface, it was little more than just any other ordinary tackle.
It was the 60th minute. The Cowboys were in the lead, bringing the ball out from their own goal line under huge pressure from an onrushing Roosters defence.
Justin O’Neill was hammered in a tackle after bobbling the ball he had barely received.
The ball bounced up and into the hands of the tricolours who shifted it right for Blake Ferguson to score. Not only did O’Neill lose the ball, but he was so far out of position having thrown his hand up to take the ball forward, that he was not there to help cover in defence.
Blake Ferguson’s run to the line would have replayed over and over in the Cowboys, Maroons and Kangaroos superstars mind.
It had all the makings of being the moment the game not only shifted, but the Cowboys season started to end.
Fast forward to the 64th minute. Blake Ferguson receives the ball as the Roosters work it out from their own end.
Justin O’Neill makes a V line for the man who made him pay a huge price just minutes ago, hammering the Roosters winger in the process, forcing the ball free.
Ferguson appeals, for some unknown reason, for a penalty, having clearly dropped the ball after the impact of the hit.
The Cowboys take possession, send it right and Kyle Feldt scores yet another monster try in ridiculous fashion to send the Cowboys into a lead they never relinquish.
The try was amazing, the build-up play was clever, but for me, THE play of the season was that hit by Justin O’Neill.
As a stand-alone moment, there were probably 30 better tackles in the game, but in the context of having just handed the ball, and four points, to the opposition, only to be responsible for correcting the error and sending the team on their way to victory … it just doesn’t get any bigger than that.
It would have been oh so very easy for O’Neill to dig a hole and disappear. His error was a shocker, under little to no pressure.
But when your error is made up for just minutes later in a massive, game-changing way, I guarantee no one will remember the drop ball in six months time.
They will remember the hit on Ferguson and the resulting Kyle Feldt try. They will remember the incredible sideline conversion from the busted up Ethan Lowe.
The occasion, the circumstances, the context. THE MOMENT!!!
We hear (too much) about “Origin moments” throughout the year, but this was a massive moment from an Origin representative.
Truth be told, it’ll probably be forgotten by Sunday when the teams run out onto ANZ Stadium, but it shouldn’t be.
Instead, it should be remembered for what it was, THE play of the entire 2017 NRL season … to date.