Sydney Roosters 16 (M Jennings, J Friend tries J Maloney 4 goals) bt Manly Sea Eagles 4 (S Matai try).
Crowd: 12,950 at Brookvale Oval.
Not only was this the Roosters’ best win of the season, it came despite a mountain of dropped ball, a 53-47 possession against them in the first half, nine penalties and just three offloads at one of the true graveyards in the NRL.
The Roosters couldn’t catch a raindrop in a storm in this one, and the referees blew their whistles more than a raver at a Scooter concert as the Chooks gave away penalty after penalty after penalty.
The club withstood a hideous performance by the men in pink who’d reverted to the five metre rule for much of the game, as well as a final 11 minutes without their most damaging forward following a contentious send-off.
But no matter how much the Sea Eagles threw at the Roosters, there was a sense that the line would never be crossed. It genuinely comes as a shock these days when the best defensive team in the NRL’s line is broken, as the confidence in defence is at an all-time high — perhaps matched only by the gang-tackling teams the Roosters employed circa 2002-2004. They are now, amazingly, averaging less than 10 points conceded per game.
Remarkably, this game was actually free-flowing despite the final score, with just three tries scored, and was played with a finals-type speed and intensity.
It’s the win the Roosters had to have to legitimise their season so far, and scarily it’s a win that shows the club has a shitload of improvement left in them.
Man of the Match.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall was simply magnificent. He set up the Roosters final —
This was the hardest selection for man of the match all season. James Maloney did some great things but missed a season-high five tackles and had two errors. Boyd Cordner was outstanding in defence but dropped a sitter with the line begging. Sonny Bill ran it 12 times but dropped it twice and the Sea Eagles wrapped him up effectively all night.
So Mitchell Pearce gets the goods.
He broke the line and kicked well with limited opportunities, and his defence on the line was massive — especially late in the first half when the Roosters were camped on the line for five out of six sets thanks to repeated dropped ball and a lopsided early penalty count.
He had 15 tackles, a line break, an offload, four tackle busts and five kicks for 190 metres while directing the team superbly around the field.
Again, no-one really stood out in one of the better defensive team performances in recent Roosters history.
Cases really could be made for Boyd — who had 30 tackles and 12 hit-ups — and Michael Jennings, who shut down Jamie Lyon with 21 tackles and just his third miss of the season and ran it eight times for 153 metres, including a runaway try off a spill from the Wolfman.
But MP7’s control of the game was first rate and he continues to impress by doing less this season. He’s picking his spots and directing this team around like a chess player toying with an opposition before deploying his queen.
The best defensive performance of the season.
There is no other way to describe it.
The Chooks repelled repeated attacks on their own line, including one stage in the first half where they defended in their own 20 for five out of six sets.
They effectively shut down Sea Eagles danger men Daly Cherry-Evans, Kieran Foran and Jamie Lyon and weathered horrendous ball handling and more ill-discipline to limit the Sea Eagles to just one try and two line breaks with a combination of scrambling defence, gang tackling and teamwork.
Somehow, the Roosters missed just 15 tackles to the Sea Eagles’ 33 despite having the lower possession rate and completing just 24 of 37 sets.
Somehow, the Roosters weathered the storm in a final 11 minutes with their in-form prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves sent from the field and leading by just four points.
And somehow, the Roosters broke a four-match losing streak against a bogey side by winning for just the third time in 11 matches dating back to 2007 and in the process held them to a solitary try scored from a contested chip.
This is the only way teams are scoring against the Roosters these days.
I’ve watched this replay and at full speed: at speed it’s bad, but not send-off bad. George Rose leads with his head and goes low, and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is front on and trying to wrap his arms around him before collecting him high with a swinging arm which was deployed to wrap the body up.
In slow motion it appears to be much, much worse:
But even then, was it a send-off offence?
Was the tackle any worse than Steve Matai’s on George Burgess a few weeks back? That’s up for debate.
Commentators reckon it could be two to three weeks on the sideline, which could be a bit rough, really.
Watching the game the staff here at 26 Rounds thought being placed on report would have been sufficient, and the shock when he was sent off was genuine. There was more reason to send Richard Fa’aoso off for the two spear tackles on Greg Inglis two rounds ago.
His arms are swinging, but in a motion to wrap the player up and is a by-product of severely poor execution on his part. But he certainly connects with his head, and if it goes to the judiciary his record will be enough to see him have a spell on the sideline.
But you know what this means, don’t you?
The SKD’s skid.
A few people picked Shaun Kenny-Dowall to get man of the match after 26 Rounds put the MoM predictions question to Twitter.
Unfortunately, SKD put in what could only be considered the exact opposite of a man of the match performance. Five dropped balls, including one on a break with no-one near him, a penalty and lacklustre running following a solid performance in that area last week.
Some fans are already pining for Tautau Moga to return and take his spot.
What has gone on with him this year?
In 2010 he was runner-up in the Golden Boot award for the world’s best player to Benji Marshall following a season in which he scored 20 tries and was in the running for Dally M centre of the year. He scored a brilliant intercept try that won the greatest game ever played (Tigers, preliminary final) and capped off the year with a Four Nations win in which he scored the series-sealing try.
Now? He has just one try all season and fans are begging for a guy coming off knee surgery to replace him.
The rangy Kiwi needs to pick up his game STAT before it really starts to cost the Roosters, who in this game were placed under repeated pressure with his errors, and missed an opportunity for a try when he knocked a bomb on in-goal.
He did set up a try, kind of. But at this stage the cons are far and away outweighing the pros.
The freezing over of hell.
The Roosters are officially second in the NRL on points differential with the Melbourne Storm. The Rabbitohs are a clear first.
In breaking news, this writer just got hit in the head from a shit excreted from a pig that just flew over his head.
We could be headed to a grand final featuring the two oldest foes in rugby league, and Souths fans are already claiming the crowd at ANZ Stadium on Grand Final day is three to one in favour of the red and green. There are also rumours that Centrelink will open a new branch in Homebush to coincide with the event.
Both teams have been the pick of the bunch this year. The Roosters remain first in the NRL in both attack and defence after this game, while the Bunnies have probably what could be considered the harder draw so far just as the Roosters begin a stretch where they will play Jonathan Thurston and the big three from Melbourne.
But here’s some trivia about the league’s oldest rivalry: When was the last time these two clubs met in a finals series?
Undoubtedly these two teams will meet at some point in the playoffs. And hell just froze the fuck over.
Stats per the Sydney Morning Herald (click to enlarge):