Canberra Raiders 24 (E Lee, S Williams, S Earl, J Croker tries; Croker 4 goals) beat Sydney Roosters 22 (J Maloney, M Oldfield, M Aubusson, A Minichiello tries; Maloney 3 goals).
Crowd: 10,969 at Canberra Stadium.
What the fuck just happened?
At half time the Roosters were leading 16-0 and the commentators — and fans as well — were talking about the distinct possibility that the Roosters would do something that hasn’t been done since 1919 i.e. holding three consecutive teams to nil.
Now, we are talking about a loss to a team which was missing strike weapon Blake Ferguson and five eighth Terry Campese and is still reeling from the sacking of star fullback Josh Dugan. A loss which saw the defence crumble to the tune of 24 points in one half.
Hindsight shows that the first half was nothing but an illusion. The Roosters scored three tries but it really should have been more as the Raiders completed just 8 of 19 sets.
They were let down by horrible ball handling when it mattered, poor decision making under pressure and the strange tactic of kicking on the third tackle, which worked a treat in the first half but only served to increase the defensive load in a half in which the Raiders did not drop the ball until the final 30 seconds.
With all that said, the only difference was a BBQ sideline kick which hit the uprights.
So that’s a positive. Right?
Man of the Match.
We don’t give out man of the match awards for other teams here at 26 Rounds, and after a loss it is especially hard for the selection committee to pick a Rooster that deserves it.
Yep, expect some negativity in this match report.
Sonny Bill Williams and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves were again outstanding, and both Mitchell Pearce on his 24th birthday and James Maloney were excellent in the loss.
But all four were let down by shitty discipline from everywhere else on the paddock, and the ball failed to find Michael Jennings with any space as the classy centre was effectively shut down for the first time this season.
With a gun to the head, we’d give the man of the match — remember, this is only among Roosters — to James Maloney, who was again unbelievable.
Forget the two lines breaks, four tackle busts and the try in which he powered his way over in a show of strength many didn’t know he had. Instead, it was his defence in stopping Josh Papalii repeatedly in his tracks despite the likely Queensland Origin backrower having eyes squarely for him all night which was the standout for us here at the 26 Rounds offices. He missed four tackles, sure, but none of them led to a try, and four misses in the face of a Papalii onslaught isn’t half bad.
JWH was again faultless in defence with 41 tackles in 52 minutes, but he didn’t have that impact in attack that we’ve seen in recent weeks (nine runs for 71 metres) unless you count that beautiful no-look pass to the BBQ for the break up the middle in the second half.
And Sonny Bill missed his first three tackles of the season in one game, so fuck him.
(Just kidding of course. He was again the Roosters’ most dangerous weapon and the try he set up for Mini was vintage SBW.)
The Raiders have a weird record in making the playoffs: they haven’t made it for consecutive years since 1994, and they also haven’t missed the playoffs in consecutive years in the same period.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall is becoming the player-version of the Raiders club, only if you replace “playoffs” with “solid game” and “since 1994” to “the start of the season”.
This game should’ve been predicted by yours truly. He was terrible against the Bunnies, scored a try and played well against the Warriors, couldn’t catch a cobweb with a Velcro glove against the Broncos, and played well alongside SBW last week against the Eels.
So following that trend (shit, good, shit, good) he was bound for a stinker in this one.
He had three errors, including the world’s most obvious forward pass with the line open on the fourth tackle when he should’ve just held the thing, and he was clearly outpointed by Jarrod Croker.
When does Tautau Moga get back?
It clearly wasn’t all his fault, and the Roosters were let down largely across the paddock.
Luke O’Donnell spilled the ball twice inside his own half in the first 10 minutes, and missed a tackle on Sam Williams which led to a soft try by the Roosters’ defensive standards of the last two rounds.
The loss of Boyd Cordner to a head knock hurt — it forced Trent Robinson to play the 32-year-old O’Donnell extended minutes which may have led to that tired attempt midway through the second half.
You can’t really fault Mini’s performance in this one — he picked up a ball around his ankles from an SBW special to score and was safe pretty much all night. But he spilled a bomb with no-one around him (thankfully) which is simply uncharacteristic for the best bomb-taker in the game, and we should’ve known straight after that dropped ball that the second half was only ever going to go one way.
And while Jack Friend again tackled the house down and showed some dynamic running out of dummy half, he kicked the ball out on the full in the second half which just added to the mounting pressure on the Roosters.
A tactic that backfired — eventually.
The Roosters weren’t just kicking early: they were kicking really early.
On three sets in the first half following an opening which saw the chooks drop it four times in the first five sets, the Roosters kicked it on the third tackle.
The tactic here was obviously to back their defence to force an error, and in the first half it worked well as the Raiders completed just 8 of 19 sets, with the Roosters capitalising almost every time they had the chance in the opposing red zone.
But in the second half, it just didn’t make sense.
The Chooks turned it over seven times, not including the play where Jake Friend kicked it out on the full on the fourth tackle.
(Can someone answer why Friend is kicking when you have the BBQ and MP7 either side of the ruck? Anyone? He’s not Cameron Smith, and the BBQ is not Gareth Widdop. Give it to the six, Jakey-boy.)
And the Raiders adjusted to the early kicking, playing simple footy up the middle and scoring by passing through the hands, running at the line and kicking to the wings — all safer plays than hitting hole runners.
When the Roosters started dropping the ball, they needed to use the tackles they could when they did hold it rather than just booting it downfield.
Penalties, errors and a tired defence near the end
When you drop the ball four times in the first five sets that you have it in your on half — the only time they didn’t was when BBQ kicked it on the third — you’re setting yourself up to do some goal-line defence, meaning you’re going to be tired towards the end of the game and they aren’t.
When the opposition is tackled in your 20 metre zone 18 times in the first 26 minutes of the game, compared to the one time you’ve been down in the same zone at the other end of the field, you’re going to be tired towards the end of the game and they aren’t.
When you compound that by giving away four penalties to zip in the first 33 minutes, gifting the opposition with free metres up the field, you’re going to be tired at the end of the game and they aren’t.
The Raiders scored some tries that shouldn’t have been scored against a good defence. The first try to Edrick Lee was scored with the widest man being SBW for some reason. Where was the Sheck?
From there it was just an avalanche really, and a lot can be put down to a defence exhausted from the opening 30-odd minutes of the game. The Jarrod Croker try was as clean a line break as you will get, but last week’s defence — working off an attack that completed 18 of its first 20 sets — wouldn’t have let that one through.
We can live with the Earl try which came off a kick, partly because it was a freakish catch but mostly because he’s a Roosters junior — and that’s how we teach our kids to roll.
The one that should piss the Roosters off the most is the Sam Williams try in which he stepped past some lazy — dare I say tired? — Luke O’Donnell defence to burrow over left of the posts. This Williams kid is not bad, but he’s no Chris Sandow. If we can stop Sandow’s running game, we should be able to stop Sam Williams.
On to the Bulldogs.
Based on the Bulldogs’ performance against the Eagles in which they went down 20-6, the Roosters’ three game winning streak and 16-0 halftime lead against the Raiders, the Roosters would have been clear favourites heading into SBW’s first game against his former club.
Then the second half happened.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall will be up against Josh Morris who has been in superb form. But they have Tony Williams and we have SBW.
Either way, we should be infinitely more nervous heading into Friday than we were at half time of this game.Again, what the fuck happened?
Stats courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald (click to enlarge):