NRL fans’ nerves were left a frayed mess by the end of Round 6 as thriller after cliff-hanger unfolded.

Wild finishes, golden point madness and overachieving efforts by underdogs characterised a memorable weekend of footy.

By the barest of margins

After last week’s round of blowouts – with five games featuring margins of 22-plus – parity returned to the NRL with a succession of nail-biters.

Four matches were decided by two points or less (including a pair of matches that went to golden point in crazy finishes), while Brisbane’s 28-14 derby win over the Dolphins – after a tight first half ended 6-4 – was the biggest margin of Round 6.

Three underdogs produced upsets: shorthanded Sydney Roosters pipped Newcastle 22-20 on the road; Parramatta released the pressure valve with a 27-20 defeat of visiting North Queensland; and St George Illawarra extended Wests Tigers’ woeful Campbelltown record (nine straight losses) in a 24-12 result.

Three more underdogs – Canterbury (+18.5), Manly (+6.5) and Gold Coast – comfortably covered hefty lines.

Just two competition points separate third-placed Canberra and 13th-placed St George Illawarra on a congested NRL ladder, with Cronulla and Melbourne getting a one-win break on the field at the top of the table.

On the buzzer

Melbourne’s two tries in the last three minutes – capped by Xavier Coates’ instantly-iconic superman match-winner – to sink the Warriors in Round 2 will take some beating as the greatest escape and craziest conclusion of 2024.

But two matches over the weekend made worthy entries into the wildest finish of the season conversation.

The Warriors produced their poorest performance of the year but rallied from 16-0 down against a gritty Manly outfit.

Still eight points down with 70 seconds to go, the hosts conjured a converted try then were awarded a last-second penalty for Josh Aloiai’s illegal challenge on Shaun Johnson, who duly levelled the scores from in front.

The Warriors had the better of the golden point chances but couldn’t convert as the match resulted in just the second draw of the past four years, allowing to Sea Eagles to head back across the Tasman with a competition point – the absolute least they deserved from an impressive display.

Canberra struggled to douse the unexpectedly stoic challenge of winless Gold Coast and was run down in a stunning late charge on Sunday night.

The visitors trailed 20-10 but stayed alive with a 76th-minute try from a scrum win trick-shot, before Alofiana-Khan Pereira dived over with 30 seconds on the clock. Brian Kelly’s first successful goal at NRL level – from the sideline and after the siren – sent the game into golden point.

Kieran Foran was unable to take a pair of field goal opportunities and a long, weaving run from opposing No.6 Ethan Strange in the last minute of extra-time put the Raiders in position for Jamal Fogarty to clinch a 21-20 win with only 10 seconds left.

JD’s stay of execution

It says plenty about South Sydney’s plight that a 34-22 loss to Cronulla was viewed as a significant improvement – and enough for under-fire coach Jason Demetriou to hold onto his job for now.

The centre of rabid speculation after their horrific 34-4 loss to the Warriors in Round 5, Demetriou was publicly backed by Rabbitohs CEO Blake Solly, who praised the last-placed team’s “brave” performance against the Sharks.

To their credit, after trailing 22-6 Souths stayed in the fight to claw back to within six points of the ladder-leading Sharks, who only sealed the win with a 79th-minute try.

The bare facts, though, are that the would-be heavyweights have won just five of their last 19 games – conceding an average of 29 points in the process.

The Rabbitohs’ 196 points leaked so far in 2024 is ranked 23rd in premiership history for the most conceded in the first six games of a season – and the second-most in the past 18 years.

Souths head into the bye prior to a daunting Anzac Day assignment in Melbourne, languishing at $51 in the premiership market after heading into the season in single figures.

Honour in defeat

Arguably the two teams whose stocks rose sharpest in Round 6 finished on the losing side of the ledger.

Canterbury’s 16-14 defeat to a full-strength Melbourne at AAMI Park represented a solid platform to build a campaign on, bravely fighting back from 10-0 down to claim the lead before agonisingly conceded a 75th-minute match-winner to Shawn Blore.

Bulldogs coach Cameron Ciraldo has a massive call to make with Blake Taafe due to return. With Stephen Crichton moving to fullback, the left edge of Matt Burton, Bronson Xerri and Josh Addo-Carr was lethal – resulting in a 14-minute hat-trick for ‘The Foxx’.

But it’s the Bulldogs’ defensive improvement that is keeping them in the Top 8 smoky chat.

Meanwhile, although the wash-up was partially overshadowed by the press conference slanging match between rival coaches and former NSW and Kangaroo Tour teammates Des Hasler and Ricky Stuart, the Titans’ gutsy effort to force the game into extra-time could prove a turning point.

The Titans were awful in their opening four games, conceding more than 30 points a game and scoring just 10. But to rally from 12-0 and 20-10 down represented a major attitude shift for the winless outfit.

Backing up those breakthrough performances is critical for both teams. The Bulldogs host the Knights next Sunday at Accor Stadium, while the Titans welcome the in-form Sea Eagles to Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday.

Metre-eating milestones

It’s no secret Joey Manu is a yardage monster when he gets a chance with the No.1 on his back – he famously broke the mythical 400-metre barrier for New Zealand against Tonga in 2022.

In the absence of James Tedesco on Thursday, Manu played a monumental role in Sydney Roosters’ 22-20 upset in Newcastle with 346 running metres from 30 carries.

Manu’s mighty effort was briefly credited as a new NRL record of 370 metres before being revised over the weekend. Clint Gutherson (369m in 2020) and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (368m in 2019) retain the top two spots.

The Tricolours danger-man, who also racked up 11 tackle-breaks, two line-break assists and a try assist set the tone for the round.

Canterbury’s Jacob Kiraz chewed through 303 running metres from 29 carries – a phenomenal effort for a centre – in the narrow loss to Melbourne. Amazingly, fellow Bulldogs centre Bronson Xerri also topped 200 metres and Josh Addo-Carr had 249 metres.

Not to be outdone by the player he forced back into the Kiwis centres, Warriors custodian Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad matched Manu with 346 metres – equal-third since data has been recorded (1988-onwards) – from an eye-watering 33 runs in Saturday’s golden point barnburner.

Big running-metre tallies are geared towards outside backs, which made Joe Tapine’s performance for Canberra arguably the most remarkable of the lot. The veteran prop racked up 303 metres (including 134 post-contact) from 26 carries as the Raiders escaped with a golden point win over the Titans.

Of players who have made more than two appearances in 2024, Penrith duo Dylan Edwards (256.8) and Brian To’o (210.1) are the NRL’s average running metres leaders.