SYDNEY ROOSTERS 16 (M Aubusson S Kenny-Dowall A Minichiello tries J Maloney 2 goals) beat NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS 14 (P Godinet S Johnson B Tupou tries S Johnson goal).
Crowd: 32,740 at Eden Park.
The Roosters deserved to win this game. They were better with the ball than the New Zealand Warriors, they asked more questions of the defence and dropped the ball far fewer times than their Kiwi counterparts.
But they only won by two points, saved miraculously by one of the worst kicks at goal ever witnessed.
What let the Roosters down was a distinct lack of cohesion and a few blunders from a fullback for whom said blunders are becoming the norm rather than the exception as his career comes to a close.
But when they chanced their arm out wide? My God.
That left-side attack will end up being unstoppable by season’s end, while Shaun Kenny-Dowall and the right side picked themselves up after an awful showing last week.
The game, as it is with a team still learning the nuances of each other’s habits, was defined by monotonous hitups up the middle punctuated by a few explosive bursts of rugby league brilliance.
Eventually, those explosive bursts will become more and more regular, but it’s going to take time. I’ve said it a few times here and I’ll say it again. Patience is required for this team, and we’ll know more in round 10 onwards than we do now – but the early signs, in attack at least, are very positive.
Man of the Match: Michael Jennings.
I predicted in the preview last week that Jennings would destroy Konrad Hurrell, get man of the match, and that the Roosters would win a close one in the 1-12 margin range.
The last prediction is irrefutably correct, while the first one is subjective. But this observer reckons Jennings was a clear man of the match in this one.
It wasn’t just in attack either, where he ran nine times for 154 metres, broke the line twice, had a line break assist, three tackle busts and an offload, and looked a handful every time he touched the pill.
Defensively, he effectively shut down potential wrecking ball Hurrell and never allowed the youngster the room to wind up. He made 14 tackles and missed none, which is quite the feat against that bump-off wizard he was up against.
Some of this might have been due to the Warriors’ halves failing to get him the ball effectively but with Jennings, SBW and Tupou out there the left-side defence was tough all night.
Left side combinations in attack
These are starting to develop really nicely. We can forget about that proclamation that SBW would play on the right side; he’s firmly on the left side in attack and it could prove to be a masterstroke.
SBW was very quiet in the first half, only running it three times and barely making an impact.
However, he played the full 80 and really warmed up to the task in the second half, including throwing that beautiful round-the-corner offload to a streaking Jennings. More please.
James Maloney looks like he has exclusive domain on that side, and his perfectly timed ball to Jennings in the first five minutes enabled the centre to get outside his man and start a try movement that reminded me of those grand old days back in 2010.
The five-eighth really stood up in this one, leading the kicking metres (11 kicks for 377 metres) and delivering great service to his outside men.
And with Daniel Tupou out wide, both Maloney and Mitchell Pearce are sure to aim some cross-field chips his way all season given his clear height advantage.
This will become the most devastating left-side attack in the competition by season’s end – it’s already the most dangerous.
Sonny Bill Williams left wanting
Sonny Bill reminded me of Lionel Ritchie in that first half, left chanting “hello? Is it me you’re looking for?” on the left edge while the pill went to every forward but him.
He had three runs in the first half, in which he played the full 40. Luke O’Donnell had three runs in the last 10 minutes.
On Twitter, @bondiroosters noted that they were “treating a Ferrari like a Corolla”. I made the counterpoint that they were actually leaving the Ferrari in the garage while using the Corolla to get where they needed to go. And Corollas are fine in getting from A to B, but a Ferrari gets you there way quicker while making you look fully sick, bro.
In playing the full 80 minutes, SBW ran it 12 times for 100 metres with 19 tackles and two offloads.
In 38 minutes, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves – who I thought was phenomenal, mind you – ran it 11 times for 71 metres and made 36 tackles with no offloads and two penalties.
The tackles can’t be helped – no one runs at SBW. But he’s not being given the opportunity to run at anyone else.
In the second half they gave him the ball more, he ran it nine times and he threw that spectacular offload to Jennings. So they’re still easing him into the game I’m sure, and after five years out of the game that’s understandable. But with the weight of possession they had in the first half I have no doubt that the 6-0 scoreline in their favour would’ve been more had they taken the Ferrari for more of a spin.
Minichiello: erratic again.
Anthony Minichiello is still capable of spectacular feats. The dive for that try in the first half was as exciting as it was necessary; he diffused two bombs and played well returning the ball and taking pressure off his forwards with timely runs.
On the other hand, his handling in attack when faced with any pressure is shaky at best, and his spill led to Johnson’s 70-metre try compounded by the fact there was no fullback there to chase.
He also, incredibly, failed to kick a ball dead which was right in front of him, before he overran it and allowed Bill Tupou to touch down and make the game very interesting.
At this stage of his career, Mini is rocks or diamonds. He’ll have games where you wouldn’t have anyone else at the back, as he remains the best under the high ball of any fullback in the comp. But then you put a low ball near him and it becomes a lottery whether he can pick it up or not.
Having parts of your spine shaved off and getting discs fused together obviously can’t be good when you’re trying to bend over, which sucks because sweeping grubbers dead is one of the fullback’s main roles.
It’s time to shift him to the wing. Grubbers in goal out wide are less of a lottery as the sideline will protect him and grubbers out wide are far less common anyway.
And Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, in very limited opportunities, has shown he offers way more in attack than the club legend can at this stage of his career.
Don’t get it twisted: Mini still has value. But getting the most out of what he has left is the main issue here, and the wing is probably best for him and the team, even if captaining from the wing is a tough ask.
SKD ends his skid
Shaun Kenny Dowall bounced back from a horrendous outing in round one by scoring a try, breaking the line twice and cleaning up that defence out on the right side.
He was the lead tackler in the movement which saw Bill Tupou dragged over the sideline in attacking position, while he was dangerous in attack and held the ball for a fuckin’ change.
Statistically he was impressive: one try, two line breaks, 20 tackles (only three missed, and none crucial), no handling errors and 13 runs for 101 metres. He had two penalties, but given the Roosters were fairly disciplined and won the penalty count for a change, we can live with that.
We didn’t see much of Dane Nielsen either, and SKD deserves some real credit for that.
When the Roosters attack on the line, SKD remains one of the most potent try scorers in all of rugby league with that incredible wingspan which enables him to stretch out like no other, combined with his unique ability to find the gap out wide by running the angle against the defensive grain, as evidenced early in the second half. He has great footwork on the line and relies a lot on instinct to avoid tackles – but he can do it in an enclosed space and stay alive.
In all, a very good bounceback effort from the Skud.
Discipline. Finally. And a great chase that saved the game in the end
The stats say it all. They completed 28 of 36 sets, leading to 52 per cent of possession.
Yet somehow they almost went to Golden Point. Thank God that Johnson shanked that kick, sure, but what really saved the game in the end wasn’t that miss, but an earlier one.
And we can thank MP7 for that.
Shaun Johnson received the ball well in his own half after a Minichiello spill and raced upfield. Roger Tuivasa Sheck missed an ankle tap in the chase, leaving it up to Pearce to put pressure on Johnson.
He didn’t make the tackle but actually gained ground on the speedster over the last 30, and forced Johnson to put the ball down out wide to make it 16-4.
Johnson then had the conversion hit the upright from a tough angle.
If Mitchell doesn’t chase that kick, Johnson puts it down under the posts, and that shanked kick at the end becomes irrelevant as the score would’ve been tied, and with momentum on their side I have no doubts the New Zealand outfit would’ve kicked on in the extra period.
Thanks Pearcey. What a chase.
I expected this to be a closer game than many were predicting, but it really didn’t have to be. We scored early in each half and took the foot off the pedal afterwards and allowed the Warriors through Shaun Johnson – who was absolutely spectacular all game except for one horrible conversion attempt – to creep back into the game.
This is still a work in progress. Boyd Cordner returned and played admirably, but it looks like he is still injured as evidenced from a tackle late in the game when he landed awkwardly and cried out in agony. Given our depth, I still think the best course of action is to get the surgery now rather than stubbornly playing through it.
I thought James Maloney took the game by the thruff of the scrote, and I thought O’Donnell played extremely well in his first game back in the NRL. He ran 12 times for 124 metres, and at this stage of his career he’s more of a hybrid backrower/prop in the same way Paul Gallen has become – albeit without the same skill set the Gal still possesses.
He doesn’t bump people off and doesn’t pass, but he guarantees you 10 metres every run which is all they need from him off the bench with the abundance of skill the rest of the team has.
And Michael Jennings will end up being the buy of the season. His combination out wide with Maloney and Sonny Bill makes me shudder just thinking about how this will develop when they take the shackles off SBW and the passes become more crisp and regular.
They still have questions to ask in coming weeks i.e. is Daniel Mortimer deserving of more game time at hooker and at the expense of Jake Friend?
(My answer: Morts won a points decision over Friend. His running game out of dummy half led to a much needed penalty from the marker defenders; something I can’t recall Friendy doing for a long time now.)
And what happens when the full gamut of backrowers becomes available? Who is squeezed out? Guerra, whose unique ability to spin out of tackles makes him dangerous on the line; or Aubusson, who has been one of our best players in the first two rounds? Or FPN, who is passing more before the line and running less and less, but who can still intimidate in defence?
And what about when Lama Tasi returns? Has Marty Kennedy done enough to hold his spot?
(In my opinion, no. With the addition of Luke O’Donnell, Kennedy’s ram-rod role is redundant. Tasi offers more in the way of potential line breaks and he’s been working on his passing game in the offseason.)
I’m glad I’m not Trent Robinson.
This was a closer game than it needed to be but they managed to pull it out, which is a good sign for the season. Like Kirsten Dunst in Interview With A Vampire, I’ve had a taste and I want some more.
UPDATED: An earlier post incorrrectly stated that the Roosters had won the penatly count 8-6. Clearly that was wrong, due to a simple misread of the stats. I should’ve known. The Roosters winning a penalty count? Hilarious!
At any rate, thanks to Ryan Heighway (@heighway_) for pointing out such a ridiculous error on my part.
Game stats (courtesy of The Sydney Morning Herald):
New Zealand Warriors
Tackles: Todd Lowrie 46, Simon Mannering 38, Jacob Lillyman 29, Sam Rapira 24
Runs: Ben Matulino 17 (154m), Jacob Lillyman 13 (109m), Bill Tupou 12 (106m), Feleti Mateo 12 (92m)
Offloads: Feleti Mateo 3, Ben Matulino 1, Todd Lowrie 1,
Metres: Ben Matulino 154m, Jacob Lillyman 109m, Bill Tupou 106m, Shaun Johnson 95m
Linebreaks: Shaun Johnson 1, Pita Godinet 1,
Kicks: Shaun Johnson 13 (516m), Thomas Leuluai 4 (115m).
Tackles: Jake Friend 32, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 30, Sam Moa 28, Mitchell Aubusson 25
Runs: Anthony Minichiello 14 (116m), Shaun Kenny-Dowall 13 (101m), Sam Moa 13 (128m), Luke O’Donnell 12 (124m)
Offloads: Sonny Bill Williams 2, Daniel Tupou 1, Jake Friend 1, Mitchell Aubusson 1
Metres: Michael Jennings 154m, Sam Moa 128m, Luke O’Donnell 124m, Anthony Minichiello 116m
Linebreaks: Michael Jennings 2, Shaun Kenny-Dowall 2, Daniel Tupou 1, Mitchell Aubusson 1
Kicks: James Maloney 11 (377m), Mitchell Pearce 9 (292m), Jake Friend 2 (97m).