SYDNEY ROOSTERS 8 (J Maloney try, 2 goals) beat BRISBANE BRONCOS 0.
Crowd: 13,047 at Allianz Stadium.
There are two stats we need to compare to really get a sense of how impressive this Roosters performance was: 402 to 284, and four to nil.
The first two numbers are the Roosters and Broncos’ tackle counts respectively. The second set is the line breaks in this game, again the larger number attributed to the Roosters according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
The Roosters were as watertight as a dolphin’s arsehole while making more than 100 extra tackles, and not allowing a line break in a hard-fought 8-0 win on Saturday night — the first time the Chooks have held a team scoreless in five years.
In reality, the game really shouldn’t have been that close. Only one line break was converted into points and the tackle count was a result of poor discipline, again, in holding the ball and giving away cheap penalties, something we are becoming more and more accustomed to as the norm these days.
But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that the Roosters stood up on their own line and swarmed all night, that shaky defence from round one all but a memory as the Roosters grinded to their second straight victory.
Man of the Match: James Maloney.
Building on an impressive game against the Warriors last week and an appearance on The Footy Show when he gave barbequing a whole new meaning, James Maloney was a shade ahead of left side partners Sonny Bill Williams and Michael Jennings, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves’ impact, and Mitchell Pearce’s long boot, as the star of this one.
He scored the only try of the match, broke the line another time and was dangerous throughout.
While he missed four tackles none were crucial and he stood up on the line when it mattered, including the effort with Jake Friend and Anthony Minichiello in holding Sam Thaiday up over the line in the second half.
But this could easily have gone to any of the five players mentioned and there’d be no argument here.
While Mitchell Pearce’s short kicking game needs work, he continually found space again with clearing kicks and made a staggering 413 metres off just 10 kicks. He made six tackle busts and was again enormous in defence, with 27 tackles and only one miss while continually being targeted by Brisbane’s forwards. And he alleviated repeated pressure after Mini threw him the ball in goal late in the second half by finding his way back into the field of play.
Again, those left side combinations continue to form.
I mentioned in the review of the Rabbitohs match that there was one play that looked particularly promising, where SBW threw an inside ball to Maloney who broke the line, but the pass was called forward.
Last night that same play resulted in a line ball that led to the easiest try the Roosters have scored in two years.
Sonny Bill is the key out left, and has almost become a second five-eighth out there. He’ll receive the ball with Maloney on his inside, Jennings on his outside. As it takes three players to bring him down as evidenced by his near-try in the first half, he effectively draws his man while the two players defending beside him have to be on alert. This opens up space either side of him and, at worst, the attack becomes one-on-one for all three players.
All four line breaks in this game came from Maloney and Jennings. The obvious next step is to capitalise on those breaks.
They bombed a try after Jennings’ flick pass went over the sideline with Tupou beside him, and this is more a result of Tupou not standing deep enough than anything Jennings did wrong. Tupou will figure this out eventually, but this is the second time they’ve bombed a try with the line begging.
Jennings has not scored a try this season, nor has he been credited with a try assist. But he remains their most dangerous attacking weapon and has broken the line six times this season alone.
The Roosters should have scored more than eight points – and credit scrambling Broncos defence for part of that. But you would hope that, if given the same circumstances towards the end of this season, they’ll be able to convert half chances into points.
They marginally won the penalty count 8-7, which is almost cause for celebration. But while much can be said about the quality of the refereeing in this one, the Roosters — despite the minor victory here — continue to give away far too many penalties in their own half and at the end of tackle counts through simple failures in technique and effort in getting off the damn players.
Frank-Paul Nuuasala was penalised for a strip when the ball was on his back, but compounded a horrible call by disputing it and gifting the Broncos an extra 10 metres in the second half, when the Roosters were already well under the pump.
Besides, the Roosters negated any minor victory with a lack of respect for the ball. They made 16 errors in this one compared to the Broncos’ 10 and as a result were never able to build momentum.
The Daily Telegraph’s stats reckon the possession was 58-42 to the Broncos; the Herald was more conservative with a 54-46 split in favour of Brisbane. And it felt like 70-30 to the Broncs in the second half.
Mitchell Pearce’s kicking game.
I touched earlier on MP7’s superb clearing kicks, in which he made an average of 41.3 metres off 10 kicks. What those stats don’t tell you is that at least two of them were short kicks on the line, and that Pearce is at least attempting to get some pressure mounted through repeat sets.
The execution is just off.
Both kicks were far too hard and didn’t force the defence to make a decision before they dribbled dead, and for the Roosters to be able to build any sustained pressure on the line they need him to execute this better.
It’s hardly his fault: he hasn’t gone for a repeat set in three years and it might just be a case of shaking off the Smithy rust. I have full faith he’ll figure it out by season’s end.
In the meantime, we can live with his sublime long boot which alleviated a mountain of pressure on a number of occasions and found grass every single time. Throw in his general passing and running at the line (9 runs, a half break, six tackle busts and an offload against the Broncos) and he’s playing about as well as any halfback can with no possession to work with in three games.
He’s still the best halfback NSW has, Adam Reynolds notwithstanding.
Sonny Bill has arrived… almost.
Williams has been superb in defence in every game this year, and again was faultless on Saturday with 38 tackles and no misses.
In three games his involvement in attack has steadily increased since round one: seven runs increased to 12 last week and to 15 this week. With limited possession only he and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves broke the 100m running mark.
He also had the only try assist in the match and almost scored himself in the first half.
But he only had one offload, which when he last played in the league was his biggest weapon.
He also looks kind of awkward out there at times, his running style more suited to rugby at this stage: protect at all costs, and cradle that shit like it’s your baby and you’re running through a fire.
When he last played league he carried the ball one-handed a lot more, which enabled a much quicker offload as you’ll see in parts of this video:
He’s also getting the ball much shallower in his second stint in league, and he’s much bigger and slightly slower.
Hopefully he pulls out the old one-hand runs again, but either way he’s been pretty darn good so far for a guy who hadn’t played league in half a decade as recently as a month ago.
JWH: limited minutes, but all quality.
Waerea-Hargreaves’ best asset was always his aggressive defence, with his running game certainly not his strongest suit.
How times have changed.
His aggression in defence is far more composed this year than before, while he consistently makes it over the advantage line.
In 43 minutes he had 14 runs for 138 metres, the most metres of any forward for the Chooks, with two tackle breaks and a rare offload.
In defence he made 29 tackles with just one miss and one penalty – but a JWH game without a penalty isn’t really a complete JWH performance. A superb effort in a little over half a game’s work, following just 38 minutes of game time last week versus the Warriors. Coach Trent Robinson has figured out how to get the most out of JWH and through three games he’s been the Roosters’ most consistent forward.
At no point did it feel like the Roosters wouldn’t win this one. Given the discrepancy in line breaks the Roosters would’ve won more comfortably if it weren’t for repeated errors and silly penalties late in the count, and had they managed to capitalise on four line breaks, two half breaks and a massive kicking game from MP7.
Sonny Bill continues the progression back to that player he once was, and while he still looks a little awkward out there he is a constant threat with his ability to get over the advantage line and his clever short passing game.
It’s also now a full-tilt battle between Michael Jennings and James Maloney for the mantle as the Roosters’ best signing over the first three rounds. I still have Jennings slightly ahead but both have added exactly what the Roosters needed: attacking class.
But to capitalise on that left-side attack they need to have enough ball to provide to those weapons out wide, which can only be done though fewer errors and greater discipline late in the tackle count.
Stats courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald (click to enlarge):