1. Sonny Bill Williams (LW: NR — Injured)
The big dude was back with a bang, and he may disappear just as quickly after being charged with a Grade 3 Careless High Tackle after his shoulder massaged the face of Willie Mason on Sunday.
The game against the Knights was the most fired up we have seen him since his return, and his patented shoulder charge even got a start for the first time since 2008. The contest between him and Big Willie was worth the view and SBW definitely got the better of his old pal.
He ran it 13 times for 113 metres — which is deceptive because he was barely tackled with the thing — with five tackle busts, four offloads and a try when he spun through three defenders and switched hands in the process to put the nail in the coffin. He also made 24 tackles and was used often as a five-eighth with the BBQ a little off in this one.
This writer would kill for his offload — he is remarkably accurate whatever the situation: falling down, creeping through tackles, or spinning out. And it was good to see him call Mason a truckin’ banker in a return to his fiery best against the Knights.
2. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (LW: 1)
The game’s best front rower was a bit light on the workload except for channelling his inner Terry Hill and going nose to nose with Jeremy Smith and Beau Scott, and laughing at them on both occasions. And that’s what you can do when you’re Jared Waerea-Hargreaves: you can get slapped in the face and laugh that shit off like someone just lit a fart.
(But if you’re JWH, you definitely CANNOT slap a guy in the face, lest you be suspended for 10 rounds while anyone else gets off scot free.)
Against the Knights he was “quiet” with “only” 12 hit-ups for 114 metres with an offload and 25 tackles, but the Roosters were noticeably worse when he was off the field in the middle 35 minutes. He came back on and immediately the Roosters regained composure and sealed the game with two tries in the final 10 minutes.
He also provided the highlight of the match when he talked some sense into Scott, who were face to face before both laughing it off. How you can’t laugh at Hollywood Hargreaves is anyone’s guess — he’s one of the true characters of the NRL.
3. Boyd Cordner (LW: 3)
Trent Robinson said the 21-year-old second-rower was moved to the left side during Origin and since the shift, the kid has thrived. He’s scored six tries in his past five matches and his work rate is beginning to match his incredible talent.
Against the Knights he was their best forward (with the exception of the man below him in the rankings) and ran it 14 times for 136 metres with a try, two tackle busts, a line break, and in defence made 28 tackles with just a solitary miss. He’s fast becoming the best hole-running second rower in the competition and has tremendous pace for a chap his size.
He has a chin like Peter Griffin’s but is scoring like Quagmire at the right end of the season.
4. Jake Friend (LW: 6)
The Roosters finally have a six, seven and nine who could all be considered in the top five at their respective positions, with Jake Friend’s meteoric rise among the best stories of the year. He now has to be considered the back-up to Cam Smith for the Queensland squad and the most likely at this stage to take over from the Maroons captain when he retires.
He’s the size of Tyrion Lannister but takes down all who run at him, rarely falling off tackles despite the increased workload he has to undertake. But his attack is what is setting him apart from the vast majority of his peers this season.
He ran it five times for 53 metres and decimated the Knights’ weak market play all game. He threw the final pass for Sonny Bill’s try and provides variety to the team when his halves aren’t dominating. The next step is to do what he is doing now in the big games, because the Roosters will need the options he provides at finals time.
5. Mitchell Pearce (LW: 2)
Mitch almost scored and had a hand in everything else for the Roosters, providing solid direction for his forwards and even securing the rarest of MP7 plays: a repeat set in the final 15 minutes for the Roosters. He had five runs for 43 metres against the Knights and kicked some perfectly weighted bombs, one which led to a try for a streaking SKD.
He’s up there with the best in the game at the play: aiming the bomb/chip just short of the line, forcing the other team to make a play at the ball but keeping it just inside the field of play so as not to enable a 20-metre restart. For all the criticism he cops for not seeking repeat sets, this play is the antidote to that somewhat.
6. Michael Jennings (LW: 5)
The beauty of Jenko’s intercept try was not the speed at which he broke away and scored with the referee and another Rooster the closest to him, but the anticipation he showed.
If you watch the replay, Jennings looks over at Mullen and reads what is going to happen perfectly, knowing the five-eight only had eyes for his outside men. He rushes off the line, knowing his team-mates had the field covered, and the pass landed on his chest.
He also had one cross-field run where at any point it looked like he’d break through, and he busted through three tackles during it. He only got his hands on the ball 9 times but ran it for 122 metres with those three busts.
But again, his defence was a highlight. He made 16 tackles with several one-on-one shutdowns, and while he missed two and gave away two penalties, none of the misses were critical and he wasn’t the only Rooster to give away multiple penalties.
7. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (LW: 4)
RTS suffered the indignity of having the ball thrown at him by Darius Boyd, who showed all the class of a fresh turd at the end of his breakaway try.
But lost in all that was the fact The Hotstepper — who we found out this week is called “dodge” by his team-mates — actually forced a break that began in the middle of the field out to the wing, and he almost got the little shit but for a late step.
In the game he had 13 runs for 92 metres and the Knights defended him well, with the kid only busting the solitary tackle. The Knights also scored through McManus down his wing after RTS committed to coming in with Boyd throwing the final ball.
Regardless, I know who I’d rather have on my football team: the humble kid with the step like a boss.
8. Luke O’Donnell (LW: 7)
O’Donnell was their best prop in this one, running it 16 times for 125 metres and completing 29 tackles without a miss against the Knights.
The second-rower-cum-prop remains unsigned for 2013, but may have done enough to secure a fresh contract even with the likes of Kane Evans, Remy Casty and Issac Liu in waiting.
9. James Maloney (LW: 8)
The BBQ was luke-warm against the Knights. On one hand he set up a try with a double pump special, ran at a few near-gaps and made the most metres off kicks for the Roosters. On the other hand, he kicked one out dead on the full, had a chance to chip and regather but instead booted the ball dead, gave away three hideous penalties and dropped it twice.
He made 30 metres from five runs and made 13 tackles with three misses. His game epitomised that of his team: not his best, but enough to get the win.
10. Frank-Paul Nu’uasala (LW: 10)
Frank-Paul’s running game has tailed off but he had some solid touches regardless, including a beautiful before- the-line pass which almost put Sonny Bill through a hole.
I won’t judge too harshly here as the work rate among the majority of Roosters was down, but he ran it just six times for 47 metres following a few excellent weeks running it. He worked more as a passer in this one and really did nothing wrong to justify a drop — although Sam Moa is hot on his heels for the final spot.
Sam Moa, who is scoring at a better rate than his wingers in the past two weeks with two tries and a bunch of “eff-you” charges; and Isaac Liu, who is really starting to impress this writer and looks like he’s ready to start offloading at will with his spin through tackles and his arm extended — when the shackles are removed this kid could be something special.