The first post-Origin round of the 2024 NRL premiership provided major boosts for some teams and harrowing reality checks for others, while every side below the top four finished the weekend in a different ladder position to where they started.

Origin auditions, comebacks and record-breaking performances provided the dressing for a nutritious salad of footy in Round 14.

Alarm bells for tackle-shy teams

Wests Tigers’ early-season defensive resolve has apparently gone out the window, now matching their impotent attacking capabilities in conceding 98 points in their past two games.

The Tigers shot out of the gates with the first two tries and led the Dragons 8-0 at the 20-minute mark, before leaking almost a point a minute from that stage – including eight tries in the second half – of a 56-14 defeat.

A third straight wooden spoon now seems inevitable for Benji Marshall’s hapless brigade, who are striving to avoid a 10th straight loss when they host Gold Coast at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday.

The 15th-placed Titans, meanwhile, are smarting from a 46-12 loss to second-last Souths – undoing much of the good work of their stunning pre-bye upset of the Broncos.

Des Hasler is yet to mark his defensive mark on the traditionally porous Titans, who have given up 28-plus points in eight of their 12 games – and at least 18 in every outing.

The Cowboys’ best defensive display of the season – in an 18-16 boilover against the Roosters with six Origin players absent – in Round 13 proved a one-off, crashing to a diabolical 42-12 loss to the resurgent Warriors.

Abysmal from the opening minutes as they bumbled to a 22-0 deficit after 32 minutes, the Cowboys’ showed minimal goal-line resistance in their second-worst home loss since 2007.

For the record

The weekend was nectar of the rugby league Gods for the game’s stats and history geeks (this writer included) with a big club record smashed and an extraordinary first-time occurrence in the premiership.

Zac Lomax’s 32-point haul at Wests Tigers’ expense broke the modest St George Illawarra of 22 he co-held with Amos Roberts, Jamie Soward and Gareth Widdop (three times), racking up three tries and 10 goals from as many attempts just 48 hours after a strong Origin debut for NSW.

Lomax’s bonanza ranks equal-11th in premiership history for most points in a match, while Nathan Cleary’s 34 points against Newcastle in 2019 is the only bigger individual tally since 2008. Amazingly, 24 of his points came in the second half.

Then on Sunday, Penrith winger Brian To’o and Manly counterpart Tommy Talau broke unprecedented ground by both crossing for three tries before halftime.

David Middleton, the doyen of rugby league historians and statisticians, confirmed it was the first time ever players from opposing teams had recorded first-half hat-tricks. Talau eventually joined an exclusive group of players to score four tries in a losing effort.

Tracey bullet fires Bulldogs to victory

There’s still plenty of graft and hard-earned competition points to go before Canterbury fans can contemplate the end of an eight-year finals drought, but Cameron Ciraldo’s vision of the Bulldogs is rapidly taking shape.

With 11 regular-season matches to play, the Bulldogs have already equalled their best win tally of the past four seasons. Four more victories will ensure they finish with more wins than any campaign since 2016.

Monday’s gutsy 22-18 result against Parramatta – in the face of injuries, a lopsided penalty count, a sin-binning and a slew of disallowed tries – Canterbury dug deep to break a long 18-10 impasse and conjure two tries in the last 13 minutes.

Value buy Connor Tracey laid on both critical four-pointers for Stephen Crichton and underrated winger Blake Wilson, giving the fullback three try assists, two line-breaks, six tackle-breaks and 232 metres for the match. There is no longer any question who the blue-and-white No.1 jersey belongs to.

The seventh-placed Bulldogs go into the bye deservedly on a three-match winning streak for the first time since 2019, where they’ll regroup ahead of a tough three-match litmus test stretch against the Roosters, Sharks and Warriors.

Broncos on the brink

At the same stage last season, Brisbane had 10 wins on the board and was the competition co-leader with Penrith – a position Kevin Walters’ burgeoning outfit held until the conclusion of the home-and-away rounds.

As is regular the case with top-four bolters, the follow-up campaign has proved considerably bumpier. Injuries have unquestionably played a significant role, but the Broncos are underachieving with a 7-6 record and occupying eight spot on the ladder.

The Broncos were desperate for a solid showing at home on Saturday night after blowing a handy second-half lead to the Titans prior to their Round 13 bye.

Instead, they played the Sharks – who were without linchpin Nicho Hynes and had leaked 76 points in back-to-back losses to the Panthers and Eels – back into form in a 22-12 defeat after leading at haltime.

Friday’s road trip to take on the revitalised Rabbitohs suddenly shapes as the Broncos’ most important game of the season so far, ahead of a daunting visit to Auckland three days after the second Origin and a home clash with Penrith another six days later.

Latrell stakes Origin claim

Andrew Johns, among others, has declared Latrell Mitchell an absolute must-pick for NSW’s do-or-die assignment in Melbourne.

There’s a centre spot neatly available following Joseph Sua’ali’i’s instantly infamous seven-minute debut and four-match suspension – and the enigmatic Mitchell has put his hand up for a Blues recall in recent weeks.

Albeit at fullback, Souths spearhead Mitchell has scored four tries and racked up a remarkable nine try assists in four games back from his latest suspension – inspiring high-scoring wins over Parramatta and Gold Coast.

Mitchell’s seven Origin appearances include full series in 2018 and 2021 (his most recent outings for the Blues) – both of which NSW won inside two games, all as a centre and scoring six tries in the process.

Jesse Ramien and Kotoni Staggs are both worthy of a call-up, but if Michael Maguire wants some match-winning class, authority and leadership, he needs to go chips in on Latrell.