Sydney Roosters 20 (Kenny-Dowall 2, Cordner 2 tries, Mortimer 2 goals) bt Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 18 (Barba, Halatau, Inu tries, Hodkinson 3 goals).
Crowd: 20,275 at ANZ Stadium.
26 Rounds is now zero for two when predicting losses for the Roosters — the North Queensland game and the incredible win, literally against the odds, over the Bulldogs on Friday night.
This writer will be more than happy to apply this reverse jinx for the rest of the season if it means more rousing wins like this one.
The scoreline flattered a Bulldogs team lacking imagination in attack, an attack too reliant on big forwards passing at the last minute and lacking a viable option to create something from nothing outside of their out-of-form fullback.
The Roosters started the world’s biggest ever halfback — seriously, it must be a record to start a 6 foot 4 inch, 108kg second-rower in the number 7 — and were missing three genuine stars responsible for many of the tries scored for the Roosters this year.
Of the 51 tries scored by the Chooks prior to this game, the trio of James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce and Michael Jennings had assisted on 22 of them.
But Daniel Mortimer and SBW stepped into the breach and created when needed, while the mesmerising footwork of The Sheck, the play of Boyd Cordner and the, er, fiery debut of the big red-head, Dylan Napa (read the review of his debut here), left everyone who tuned in on Friday night in no doubt that the Roosters have young stars literally across the park.
And this writer is relieved that, for once, we aren’t discussing referees after a game, this sentence excluded.
Men of the Match.
Everyone has a different opinion on this, and none of them are wrong.
Frank Paul Nu’uasala put in his second-straight destructive running performance, with eight runs for 90 metres with an offload and 22 tackles without a miss. Sonny Bill Williams dominated the second half and finished with 124 metres off nine runs, two grubbers, two offloads, a line break, five tackle busts and 20 tackles despite his well-documented arse problem. Boyd Cordner was impressive with two great tries, 37 tackles and a larger level of involvement this game than he had against the Warriors a week earlier.
But this writer can’t split these two for Man of the Match: Daniel Mortimer and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Mortimer controlled the attack almost exclusively and threw two beautiful short balls for Cordner’s tries. Those passes would have made MP7 horny and did not exist when he played for the Eels, such has been the improvement in his game.
He kicked often and, while his kicking game isn’t long, he was consistent with the boot, kicking it 16 times for 492 metres. He also nearly scored in the second half with a darting run, and supported SBW’s linebreak perfectly before being gunned down 10 metres out.
He had five missed tackles, one a poor miss for Barba’s try, but other than that you can’t fault what he did. Anyone who doesn’t feel happy for Mortimer when he stars in a game after being punted by the Eels — be it a Roosters fan, rugby league fan or hardened criminal — doesn’t have a soul.
And The Sheck? I can’t get enough of this kid.
The footwork he put in to set up SKD’s second try was as good as any seen in rugby league. Ever. Tim Lafai was dazed and confused from the display, and was promptly left in The Sheck’s wake. He finally backed himself with a push-off through the line break before offloading for SKD to touch down.
But more importantly, he defused every dangerous kick that came his way while running it 20 times for 170 metres with six tackle busts on the other side of the ball.
His level of involvement is what we’d expect when he eventually makes the shift to the number 1 jersey; and when he does, we expect more of that delectable footwork against bigger, slower forwards up the middle.
The defence is back — kind of.
The Roosters still allowed three tries in this one, and none from kicks — which was once the tactic du jour in getting across the line against the best defence in the NRL.
But the Roosters were on the wrong side of the possession count and dug deep repeatedly to prevent a barrage of attack from the likes of Tony Williams — who was rendered ineffective again — and their massive forward pack.
Ennis was unable to get anything going, and The Sheck as mentioned diffused many an attacking kick on the right-side. Even SKD bounced back defensively (more below).
This is despite the strong defence of MP7 being replaced by the shaky defence on the line from Morts, who missed five tackles. The Roosters missed 27 in all — three fewer than the Dogs — but scrambled well and didn’t allow the roll-on the dogs need to win.
Sonny Bill — again, wow.
For a guy with a busted arse, he sure busted his arse. After a quiet opening half, the second-rower/lock/five-eighth/centre/halfback exploded after intermission with a line break, an offload that led to SKD’s second try (via RTS), several incisive runs and a grubber which nearly connected with RTS for an early nail in the coffin.
The question needs to be asked now: Is Sonny Bill Williams the greatest utility to ever play the game?
It’s a legitimate question. He’s now won a premiership as a backrower/centre with the Dogs, a rugby World Cup at outside centre, played exclusively leftside second rower at the start of this season before shifting the the right, then becoming a roving lock before starting at halfback in this game.
Given his size he could play in the front row — although that would be a massive waste of his talent and destructive ability on the fringes — and if he can play centre, he can play wing. You could probably rule him out as a fullback as clubs would use the old tactic they used against former Bronco Paul Hauff (repeated grubbers at his legs) and hooker wouldn’t work as he’s just too big to bend over that much.
But everywhere else? He’s proven he can have an influence anywhere on the field, regardless of his position.
I doubted he could make a fist of the halves, especially given his arse injury. But I don’t doubt his ability to do anything on the football field now.
Happiness for SKD.
One Tweeter still found reason to claim SKD had a poor game, when he pointed to a penalty he gave away and a grab at a ball he didn’t need to swipe at.
You can read more at nit-pick.com.
SKD is always going to get comments like this; as the Tweeter pointed out, he is a shadow of his 2010 self, and he’s right. But the only way to climb back out of a hole you’ve fallen into is to hit rock bottom — you aren’t going to stop the fall by randomly grabbing at twigs on the way down.
The Warriors game was rock-bottom for SKD’s confidence following six missed tackles a week earlier and, truth be told, form in the past two years that wasn’t in line with expectation. But Friday was hopefully the beginning of the climb back out.
He scored two tries and learned his lesson from the week before, tucking the ball under his arm (even though he again raised it) and putting it down as quickly as possible for both tries. And defensively it was perhaps his best game of the season: 14 tackles without a miss, and not a single try scored down that side. He came up and in and thwarted a number of raids and prevented overlaps before they had the chance to develop.
Here’s hoping this wasn’t a futile twig grab but, rather, the beginning of the way out for the talented centre.
Match stats per the Sydney Morning Herald (click to enlarge):