Storm hits Canberra
CANBERRA - A brilliant late try from Billy Slater gave Melbourne Storm a hard-fought 24-19 NRL win over Canberra but the star fullback faces a nervous wait after going on report for a high shot on opposite number Josh Dugan.
Trailing 19-18 with four minutes remaining, Storm halfback Cooper Cronk went to the air with Slater bringing down the bomb with a perfectly timed leap to score a converted try next to the posts in driving rain at Canberra Stadium on Saturday.
Melbourne's thrilling win was offset by Slater's first half hit on Dugan when he flung out an arm and struck the flying Canberra fullback high.
Last year's minor premiers led for most of the season-opener against the Raiders, but were in danger with 20 minutes to go when Canberra scored through Glen Buttriss to level at 18-18.
Dugan put the home side up for the first time with seven minutes remaining when he slotted a field goal to put the hosts up 19-18 in front of 7862 spectators.
Brave Canberra were set a tough challenge early in the match, when the visitors piled two tries in the space of just seven minutes to set up a 12-0 lead.
The first would have sent a shiver up Canberra coach David Furner's spine, with Slater cruising through the Raiders' defence from close range in the third minute.
But the Raiders weren't to be denied, claiming back a heap of possession which was rewarded in the 14th minute when Shaun Fensom rocketed onto a David Shillington pass two metres out.
It swung the momentum Canberra's way and saw them score another try through Josh McCrone, who benefited when Melbourne couldn't scoop up a Terry Campese grubber.
Idris helps Titans
TOWNSVILLE, Qld - Gold Coast's recruitment decisions paid dividends in their NRL season-opener on Saturday night as high-profile recruit Jamal Idris picked up two tries in an 18-0 win over the Cowboys in Townsville.
The 2011 wooden-spooners dominated the error-prone home team to pick up their first win at Dairy Farmers Stadium since 2009.
It was the first time since round 23 in 2006 that the Cowboys had been held scoreless and the first time since round five 2003 that it happened at home.
The Titans won just six games last year but took only five minutes to open the scoring, Idris pouncing on a Scott Prince kick.
Despite their domination, the Titans were unable to punish the Cowboys who completed less than 50 per cent of their first half sets.
The Cowboys completion rate didn't improve after the break but they looked like being the first side to score.
On 52 minutes Mosese Pangai thought he had opened their account when he crossed the line after receiving a Robert Lui cut-out pass, but the referee judged backrower Gavin Cooper to have knocked on.
The Titans made them pay for their errors when Steve Michaels somehow managed to hold onto a bouncing ball, dropped by Cowboys winger Ash Graham off a Jordan Rankin bomb on 56 minutes.
James Tamou gave away a penalty in the 60th minute and Prince made no mistake from 35 metres.
Idris was too strong for the Cowboys defence on 74 minutes, collecting a Matt Srama pass to complete his dream debut.
The Cowboys completed just 16 of their 37 sets (43 per cent) and made 26 errors to the Titans' 10.
AUCKLAND - Manly have held off a New Zealand Warriors' comeback to start their NRL title defence under new coach Geoff Toovey with a 26-20 win in a thriller in Auckland.
Lock Glenn Stewart scored the decisive try with eight minutes to go in a rematch of the 2011 grand final, although Jamie Lyon's missed conversion kept Warriors' hopes alive in the dying stages on Sunday.
The Sea Eagles, who began the match at Eden Park in champagne style, offloading at will as they attacked out wide, grabbed three early tries to race to a 16-0 lead after the first quarter.
But in a highly entertaining clash played in glorious sunshine, the Warriors, under their own new coach in Brian McClennan, hit back to get within two points before Stewart dotted down.
Both teams lost a Kiwi centre during the match - Warrior Jerome Ropati (ankle), who missed most of the last season because of a knee reconstruction, and Manly's Steve Matai (wrist).
Winger David Williams, in his first NRL match since breaking his neck just before last year's playoffs, got Manly on the board in the eighth minute.
He was then turned provider with a pinpoint infield chip four minutes later that Daly Cherry-Evans collected to dot down.
When Matai added a simple third for his 50th NRL try midway through the half, it looked like the Warriors were in for a long afternoon.
Instead, it was a signal for a home fightback, with young prodigy Shaun Johnson the catalyst.
A jink and then a bounce pass set up a try for winger Manu Vatuvei in the 31st minute, before Johnson himself beat four defenders from five metres out to grab the second five minutes before the break.
The comeback was briefly halted early in the second half when second rower Tony Williams, who was a dominant figure on the Manly left, forced his way over.
Warriors fullback Kevin Locke, who dropped a bomb that led to the try, made amends when he scored to drag the home side back to 22-14.
With 13 minutes to go, Manly hooker Matt Ballin was sin-binned after coming in late as the second man in a tackle on Lewis Brown.
From the tap penalty, Vatuvei grabbed his second try, but that was close as the Warriors got.
Barcelona moves up
MADRID - Seydou Keita and Xavi Hernandez came to the rescue to give 10-man Barcelona a crucial 3-1 victory over Sporting Gijon on Saturday which cut the gap on leaders Real Madrid to seven points.
Mali international Keita popped up to curl in a left-footed shot from the edge of the area with 12 minutes remaining, before Xavi finished Sporting with two minutes left.
Earlier Andres Iniesta had opened the scoring for Barca before David Barral took advantage of a Gerard Pique red card to bring the Asturian side back into the game.
Barcelona were without Lionel Messi who was serving his first ever suspension for a fifth yellow card.
Real Madrid can restore their imposing 10-point advantage at La Liga summit when they face Espanyol on Sunday.
Despite the win, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola admitted that his hopes of clinging onto the title were fading.
"I honestly feel we have very little chance of catching Madrid, the gap is too much, but we've won 13 out of a possible 16 competitions and we'll continue to fight," he said.
"It is not the fault of referees that we are not first, the main reason is we have failed."
In other games on Saturday there were wins for Malaga and Rayo Vallecano that improved their chances of European competition next season while rivals Sevilla and Atletico Madrid drew 1-1 in a tight, competitive game.
Argentinian midfielder Eduardo Salvio opened the scoring early on for Atletico Madrid in Sevilla with a glancing header from a Gabi Fernandez cross.
It was an African combination that levelled the game when Malian Freddie Kanoute provided the cross for Senegalese striker Baba Diawara's first goal for Sevilla.
Both teams remain level in ninth and 10th on 33 points and four behind fourth placed Malaga who came from behind to win 3-1 at Getafe for who Diego Castro scored on 42 minutes.
The visitors equaliser came quickly with a spectacular shot from the Brazilian Eliseu before Jeremy Toulalan and Santi Cazorla earned the three points with equally superb strikes in the last 10 minutes.
Rayo Vallecano are eighth, three points behind Malaga after they came from two goals down to beat Racing Santander -- who had goalkeeper Tono sent off on three minutes -- 4-2.
Santander raced into the lead with goals from Marc Torrejon and Gonzalo Colsa, but Rayo shuffled their pack and came back with some great attacking play and two goals from Michu and one each from Raul Tamudo and Piti.
Santander remain in the relegation zone, three points from safety.
Osasuna drew 1-1 at Mallorca to move sixth on 35 points. Emilio Nsue grabbed a second-half leveller for them after Alvaro Cejudo had put the visitors ahead on 45 minutes.
Firebirds win again
WELLINGTON - Defending trans-Tasman netball league champions Queensland Firebirds carried on from where they left off last year, overwhelming the Melbourne Vixens 50-30 to win the pre-season tournament in New Zealand.
The Firebirds were unbeaten in 2011, and continued their dominant form in the ANZ Championship preliminary tournament, which featured all 10 franchises, over the weekend in Tauranga.
Their closest game came on Saturday, when the West Coast Fever, under new coach Norma Plummer, held them to a 36-36 draw.
Composed throughout in Sunday's final, the Firebirds were the better team across the court.
In contrast, the Vixens stuttered and struggled for consistency throughout. The well-drilled Queenslanders inched ahead in the first quarter, building momentum as they took a handy 14-8 lead into the first break.
That momentum was maintained in a dour second quarter, with Vixens unable to break the shackles at either end of the court.
Key Firebirds target Romelda Aiken received quality service under the hoop from Natalie Medhurst and Lauren Nourse, the towering Jamaican constantly dominating her defenders.
The Firebirds' defensive trio of Keirra Trompf, Amy Steel and Laura Geitz had the wood on their opposites, bustling the Vixens' attackers in creating a stream of turnover ball.
Handling lapses and missed goals did not help the Vixens as Firebirds headed into halftime 23-15 ahead.
The Firebirds maintained pressure until the final whistle, piling on the goals in a strong last stanza after leading 34-23 at three-quarter time.
In the play-off for third and fourth, Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic downed last year's beaten finalists Northern Mystics 51-36. Silver Ferns captain Casey Williams' return from injury and combination at the back with Leana de Bruin was a real feature in the win.
The Fever beat Central Pulse 54-39 in the play-off for fifth and sixth, while Adelaide Thunderbirds downed NSW Swifts 42-34 to take seventh place.
The play-off for ninth and 10th was won 49-42 by Canterbury Tactix over Southern Steel.
West Bromwich downs Chelsea
Gareth McAuley's late goal earned West Bromwich Albion a third straight