Sydney Roosters 40 (B Cordner 2 M Aubusson J Friend S Kenny-Dowall S Moa D Tupou tries J Maloney 6 goals) bt Cronulla Sutherland Sharks 0.
Crowd: 13,706 at Allianz Stadium.
Roosters fans are now officially witnessing history. They are just the second team in Australian Rugby League’s 106-year history to hold five teams to nil in a season, sharing the incredible record with the Arthur Beetson captain-coached Easts squad back in 1977.
But the Roosters’ attack is catching up to the lethality of their defence. They’ve now scored 13 tries to nil in their past two matches and have bumped their average score in a game to 24.6 points, while conceding just 11.6. They are literally winning by an average margin of 13+.
Some of the tries they scored against an admittedly-hapless Sharks were scintillating — and they did it all without Sonny Bill Williams, largely due to their halfback putting in his best game of his career, following three days of criticism usually reserved for murderers.
The Sharks were pitiful though, missing five top-line players through injury, but even if those players were playing the result would’ve undoubtedly gone the Roosters’ way thanks to the Bondi club’s yeoman-like forwards putting mad work in and with their halfback putting in the game of his life.
Man of the Match.
It wasn’t just the three final passes for tries — including a double-pump pass for SKD and an incredible faceball in traffic for Boyd Cordner’s second — that ensured Mitchell won the Man of the Match award.
It wasn’t even the 25 tackles with just two misses, including several on the line efforts to hold Sharks attackers short of the line or up over it.
It was the total performance that Pearce put in that ensured the award, a performance that will go down as the best game of the 24-year-old halfback’s career.
His kicking game was as accurate as it’s ever been and cannot be faulted: he put several bombs up that were perfectly weighted just short of the line, and kicked to the touchline to perfection on a number of occasions.
His passing game was on song: in addition to those two tries mentioned already, he threw another short ball off his hip for Cordner’s first try and another boner-inducing cut-out for SKD to start another break.
He directed the forwards around to a tee, as he did in the now-forgotten Origin game one, and his combo out wide with Mitch Aubusson led to half gaps and near breaks all game.
He even had a grubber and chase before being called off the play for no reason by the referee, preventing him from regathering.
But what made this performance stand out like a nipple in winter was that it came after three days of lopsided criticism, some deserved but some downright ridiculous — which I’ll discuss and de-bunk in an article tomorrow. A lesser individual might have been broken, and similar criticism prevents the likes of Jamie Lyon from wearing the sky blue jersey. But Mitch stood up in the best way he could.
This was a full team performance, with the best front row pairing in the competition in Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Luke O’Donnell — yes, I said it — laying a huge platform and Jake Friend and Cordner along with Pearce creating chances off the back of it.
But it was a performance punctuated to perfection by MP7.
The Highlight Reel.
The big screen showed perhaps the best angle we’ve seen of a showcase of ankle-breaking stepping in the NRL. Players like Benji Marshall and Shaun Johnson can only dream of stepping like Roger Tuivasa-Sheck can, and The Matrix put on a show early in the first half when he line up his opposite man one on one and stepped left and burst through, then lined up the next guy and stepped right.
In basketball, they call this move the crossover, and RTS is the first real exponent of it in rugby league. Essentially he shifts his body a full metre to one side or another, leaving the defender to guess which way he’ll head. But guessing is part of the problem: RTS is able to see which way the defender will guess and he shifts his body to the other side and pushes off his back foot through the gap, leaving the defender looking as stiff as a three-day-old dog turd.
If you were at the game or watching at home, its a display you won’t have forgotten — and its a display that showcased exactly what this kid will be able to do down the centre of the field against bigger, infinitely slower forwards when he takes the reins at fullback.
We often talk about marketable stars in this game — the Marshalls, the SBWs — but this kid genuinely gets this writer excited to head out to a game or watch one on TV more than any other player in rugby league.
It’s just a shame Brian Smith played him in six games to end 2012 because he’d be a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year in 2013 had he not.
The best front row pairing in the NRL. Fact.
Fuck Tamou and Scott. I’ll take JWH and LOD any day of the week as my front row pairing based on current form.
They dominated the Dragons last week and pummelled a decimated Sharks squad in this game, combining for 37 runs and an incredible 366 metres up the middle. LOD has taken to his new late-career vocation at prop with aplomb, and against the Sharks he combined well with MP7 to find near-gaps in the defence to get an extra few metres almost every time.
But JWH is the tits. He made 214 metres from 19 runs, and if it wasn’t for Pearce’s career-best performance he would have been the man of the match in this one. As it stands, he almost won it anyway.
In all, the Roosters made nearly 800 running metres more than the Sharks, laying a platform to enable seven tries and ELEVEN line breaks. Those statistics aren’t possible if JWH and LOD don’t set the agenda from the kick-off.
The Robbo system.
This writer originally pegged the Roosters for a 13+ win and a Man of the Match performance from Sonny Bill Williams. Then SBW was ruled out and the forecast was downgraded to a 1-12 win in an updated preview.
But Twitter beast Anthony Bryant said I should have stayed staunch:
Man, was he right or what? This writer didn’t take into account the simple structures coach Trent Robinson has put in place, and Aubo simply slotted into SBW’s jumper and had his best running game of the season.
The Roosters have now won their only game with SBW out, and also won their only game with their Origin game two trio of the BBQ, MP7 and Jenko out.
The system is faultless, with the only real change to the effort and performance of the club being noticeable when JWH was suspended and the Roosters went 3-2 — and with one of those losses coming against the Storm.
This writer looks at a loss of a halfback or star second-rower sometimes as a death knell for the team, but time and time again they simply replace those players with the likes of Daniel Mortimer or Aubo and the Roosters don’t miss a beat.
This is a team filled with superstars, but is fast-becoming a superstar team. This is what great coaching looks like, people. And this writer needs to recognise that more.
History equalled — now to stand alone.
For many Roosters fans, at least those who read this website, they haven’t seen something like this in their lifetime. And the older fans who remember that team just one similar game away from seeing something that they’ve never seen before.
The Roosters have six games left, and play the Sharks again as well as the likes of the Tigers, Panthers and the sliding Titans. Standing alone in the history books now seems a fait accompli for the best defensive team in the league and perhaps the best in several generations.
But what would truly set this club apart more than holding a little known record is if Anthony Minichiello held the trophy up at the end of the year. The 1977 squad finished a game short of a Grand Final back then, while the Roosters of 2013 are one of four teams that have a legitimate shot at it.
At the end of the day, this is a record no-one really remembered until now — and it will be easily forgotten if the Roosters don’t carry this defence through to the final minute of the last game of the season.
Match stats per the Sydney Morning Herald (click to enlarge):