Sydney Roosters 28 (B Cordner, S Kenny-Dowall, S Moa, M Jennings, S Bill Williams tries, J Maloney 4 goals) bt Newcastle Knights 12 (D Boyd, J McManus tries, T Roberts 2 goals).
Crowd: 22,847 at Hunter Stadium.
It’s a true sign of a really good team when you can defend poorly and still only let in two tries, be out-muscled in the second half yet extend your lead despite of it, and have a puzzling game from one of your chief playmakers and still come up with a 16-point win against a top five (now top eight) team.
But — and perhaps this writer has been spoiled by the Roosters’ play in the past month — anyone who came out of that game thinking the Roosters had done enough to justify the favourites tag has got another thing coming.
This was far from the clockwork Roosters display we have come to see in recent times, and even by their own standards were horrific in giving away penalties. It’s easy to blame the referees for a lopsided count but the Roosters gave away 14 of the things, and almost every one was justified. James Maloney gave away three cheap, CHEAP penalties and got marched on another occasion, Jenko inexplicably twisted a Knights player’s leg back for another penalty, and the Roosters were called for hands on the ball more times than a fluffer. This writer was yelling “get off” at Roosters players like they were fuckin’ Tom Waterhouse.
The result may have been different had the Knights managed to hold it (14 errors, eight scrum feeds to the Roosters) but instead the Roosters won possession (barely) and total metres gained.
And thanks to some electric back row play and the work of the second-best hooker in the comp (fuck yeah I just went there), the Roosters walked away from a spiteful encounter with their fifth straight win, a win that acted as a middle finger from the fans that support them to the fullback that opposed them.
Man of the Match.
Jake Friend is in career-best form, with everything he is doing at the moment invariably ending up positive.
All game he exploited lazy marker play and provided exquisite service to his runners. He is taking all kinds of pressure off his halves, who no longer need to dominate a game for the Roosters to win, as was the case in this one.
He ran it five times for 53 metres with two tackle busts; kicked it twice, one for a near-repeat set and another clearing kick that relieved pressure; and as always defended better than anyone his size has ever been able to do (except for maybe Geoff Toovey) with a team-high 38 tackles and just two misses.
He is controlling the game from the ruck as well as anyone in the league at the moment and is making a late push, undoubtedly, for the Roosters’ player of the year.
His game offset a performance from Maloney that can only be described as puzzling. He kicked it out on the full and put a torpedo up that was far too big; he chipped and could have regathered but inexplicably kicked the ball into the fifth row behind the goal posts; he gave away three penalties and dropped the pill twice. But he also set up Boyd Cordner’s try to seal the match, defended well on the line and almost broke through off a delectable short ball from SBW.
His kicking game was much like Cloud Atlas; it was far too long and left you going “whoa” for all the wrong reasons. And much like that shitty movie, all record of Maloney’s game needs to be burned — because we all know how important he is to the chances of the Roosters winning or losing this one.
Welcome back, Sonny, from us and Willie.
We missed you, man. After the Cronulla shellacking we were kinda wondering whether we needed a that superior talent to win, one who is in the top five players in the game, or whether we could make do with a great system. We forgot, in the space of a week, how damn special you are as a player.
And it seems Willie Mason forgot that you have always been considered by far the best of the many former Bulldog forwards in the modern era, not him.
In the first half, SBW gave the former Dog/Rooster/Cowboy a bit of curry in a hit (above). Stinging, Willie got up and had some words to say to the professional boxer who got him with a good, legal tackle — a front on special that stopped Mason in his tracks.
Roughly 10 minutes later SBW was at it again, but may have slightly crossed the line with a semi-shoulder charge to the head that could land him on the sidelines. SBW yelled out something across the field to Mason when he was brought in to be placed on report: I’m no lip reader, but I’m pretty sure it rhymed with “truckin’ banker”.
It was the most aggressive we’ve seen SBW in defence since his return to the NRL, and that shoulder was the closest we’ve seen to the second-rower’s former trademark weapon.
But his game was so much more than aggression. He had four offloads, five tackle busts and a try when he went to put it down, held back, spun and scored on the other side through three defenders. He played as a five-eighth for most of the contest and further made Maloney’s off game obsolete.
The Roosters have proven they can win without their best athlete, but damn it’s good to have him anyway.
Tears for Darius, only the exact opposite of that.
This writer is as happy as a pig in the proverbial that Darius Boyd was made a very deserving loser in this game.
After breaking away and scoring a try but being forced out to the wing to touch down thanks to a great chase from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Darius stood over his stalker, looked down, dropped the ball at an on-the-ground RTS and celebrated in a show of disrespect this clown has come to epitomise on and off the field.
But thankfully, the Roosters put him in his place with a resounding victory.
For the final word, a Tweet from the excellent social media team at the Roosters (they may have missed the word “at” in the following, but still, effective):
Penalties and what this means for their premiership hopes.
Trent Robinson did not blame the referees for the lopsided penalty count, and nor should he have. He told the post-match presser that the Roosters “need to get better” in their discipline. But, let’s be honest, he said the same thing at the start of the year and the Roosters have lost all but three penalty counts since.
We’ve proven that the Roosters cannot beat the Storm in the face of a deluge of penalties, nor can we beat a Bunnies team by gifting them possession and allowing them to force repeat sets on top of that — which they do better than anyone else in the NRL.
The Roosters have made a season out of defending their line better than everyone else, but you can’t continue to rely on that heading into the finals series as a lopsided penalty count in the heat of the finals is a death sentence against those top sides.
Now, the theory always is that the whistle is put away somewhat in the playoffs, but we can’t bank on that. What the Roosters can control is getting off the tackled player when the fuckin’ ref says “move” — seriously, we can hear it while we’re watching on TV, so it stands to reason you can hear it on the field.
I expected to come out of this game with a clearer vision of how the Roosters will win the premiership, but left knowing how they might lose it.
Match stats per the Sydney Morning Herald (click to enlarge):