GOLD COAST 30 (A Don B Falloon S Michaels B Takairangi D Taylor tries A Sezer 5 goals) bt SYDNEY ROOSTERS 22 (M Aubusson S Moa M Pearce D Tupou tries J Maloney 3 goals).
Crowd: 17,542 at Allianz Stadium.
If the loss against the Sharks was the loss we had to have, this writer has no fucking idea what the hell this loss was for.
We just witnessed the second straight underwhelming game — one which was more disappointing than last week due to a lack of composure when they needed it, combined with the fifth straight week of poor second halves and the second straight underwhelming week from a star who is far better than he’s shown recently.
They don’t even have the luxury of blaming the referees who admittedly were poor again but were hardly the difference in this one. The difference was one team started out with toughness and composure, gave a shit and kept their season alive; the other played like they’d play for the minor premiership next week, win or loss, and hadn’t learned from the first-half ambush last week.
The other difference is that one team hit form while the other will potentially head into the finals on a three-game losing streak to face a bunch of teams who happen to be well and truly in form.
The Roosters are desperately out of form, a fact masked recently by an eight-game winning streak of which only a few were definitively against decent opposition (depending on your definition of decent). They’ve now lost two straight which is probably more indicative of how they’ve played in the past month and a half.
If anyone thinks we’re beating Souths, Melbourne or Manly — or even the North Queensland Cowboys — on this form, they are mistaken. This team tried today but nothing came off. The refs weren’t to blame and the Titans were the far better squad for the first and last 20 minutes of the game.
And the Roosters now have some homework to do.
Man of the Match.
In a disappointing game it’s hard to split the weak from the chaff. But two players stood out for the Roosters like a melanoma in Ireland.
Mini haters will look at Anthony Don’s try and think “Mini had to run at an angle to tackle a winger and didn’t get there, therefore Mini had a shit one”. Well, when you pit a 33-year-old against a 25-year-old, that shit tends to happen.
Those people will blame Mini even though he didn’t miss the initial tackle. And the reason he is co-man of the match in this writer’s eyes is because he didn’t miss much else.
Positionally he was perfect, under the high ball in defence he was sublime and his running game was as on song as possible. He recovered kicks like we expected and diffused what came his way, which is what we needed.
I’ve never felt more trusting of a player if a kick comes his way as I have when it heads towards Mini this season; in the second half of the year those grubbers into the in-goal which once bamboozled the surgery-repaired fullback have not been an issue at all and under bombs he’s as safe as they come.
To blame him for the dropped ball with a minute to go is to let SBW off the hook for a poor pass aimed at the ankles. Many people may disagree, and that’s their prerogative. But in a game with plenty — repeat, PLENTY — of faults, Mini was the player with the least.
Sharing the man of the match with Mini was Jared Waerea-Hargreaves who was an absolute monster in this one with 17 hitups, 145 metres and 47 tackles. This is the return to form we’d been hoping for from one of the game’s best front-rowers — it’s just a shame it culminated with the Roosters’ worst team performance this year.
SBW: two below par in a row.
I love this guy. He is a supreme athlete with athletic gifts mere mortals only hope to possess in a video game if they’re lucky. But in three of his past four halves he’s been well below his best.
Against Cronulla he had four penalties in the first half alone, and the Sharks put 26 unanswered points on the Roosters in that 40. Against the Titans he threw some offloads, threw early passes that weren’t on and generally struggled to make the impact we’re used to.
He had five errors — FIVE — and a bizarre chip at the line with no chasers in the first half. He had a try assist went he sent Moa over and ran the ball hard, but the five errors more than offset the overall picture which included six offloads and 17 runs for 144 metres. He tried his arse off but the execution was well below the SBW we saw from rounds four to 16, and the past two weeks he’s looked off despite the effort levels — especially in the second halves — being at their optimum.
This is the reason why I’m worried whether the Roosters can win the competition. We have Mitch Pearce who can play a structured play with the best of them but when that play isn’t on they struggle; they have Jimmy Maloney who can run and pass, but when the gaps aren’t there and the players are marked his impact is nullified (plus he missed seven tackles against the Titans); and we have a decent forward pack but they will be outweighed by the Storm and the Bunnies come finals time.
What sets this team apart from the rest is the x-factors. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck can sidestep bullets but he’s still young and not consistent enough yet to be considered a reliable threat; Jenko is dangerous but sometimes he won’t touch the ball more than 10 times in a match; and Jake Friend needs the offloads from JWH and co if he is to be at his dynamic best.
Sonny Bill is the most consistent x-factor in this team, but if the grind has gotten to him and the plays just aren’t there despite all his noticeable effort , then the Roosters might struggle against not only the remainder of the top four, but teams such as Cronulla, North Queensland and the Warriors.
Eighty minutes a game is a lot to ask of a second rower, even one as naturally gifted, mentally strong and physically imposing as Sonny Bill Williams. Perahps Robbo needs to find 20 minutes a game where he can afford to rest his best chance at winning a premiership this season.
Are the Roosters in a slump?
You may look at the two straight losses and think that the Roosters can easily snap out of it. After all, it’s just been two games, right?
The Chooks have had five straight weeks with first halves well below par, and three straight first halves filled with late, panicked passing at the line and a general apathy to open the match.
But what concerns this writer is that opposing teams may have finally clicked onto the Roosters’ strengths. The problem with performing to a system is eventually that system can be figured out, and teams may have now figured out how to nullify the Roosters’ left-side attack somewhat.
In two straight performances, the Sharks and now the Titans have repeatedly given away penalties to slow the momentum at the line, especially when that left side attack is lining up. Isaac de Gois was deliberately lying on the tackled player and practically begging the referee to call a penalty last week, while the Titans gave away four straight penalties in the first half to quell the flow of a momentous attack on the line — and the referee actually called Nate Myles out to warn against the repeated infringements.
But more indicative of the opposition figuring it all out: in the second half the Roosters ran the left side play and Maloney threw a cutout to what would have been an unmarked Daniel Tupou but the pass was tapped away by the Titans before it had a chance to hit Daniel-san’s hands.
This is what worries this writer. With Boyd Cordner out the attack has become far more predictable as it’s increasingly likely that Pearce will dump back to Maloney for the three-on-two play. It’s the right decision if the Roosters insist on running that play, but teams now know it’s coming.
The Roosters need to find another way through, because at the moment they can’t trust their defence enough that they can afford to hammer away at one end.
Can we still win the competition?
We need to beat the Rabbitohs next week to have any chance of winning the premiership. Many a team has entered the finals having lost their last game, sure (most memorably the Broncos in 2000 after the Roosters shut them out 26-0) but a three-game losing streak heading into a clash against the in-form top-four sides is not a good place to be in mentally.
It’s beginning to remind this writer of 2008 when the Roosters finished in the top four but bowed out in straight sets once their attack became predictable and their defence became porous.
This team on paper is far better than that which lined up in 2008 — and many would argue this is the most talented team across the park the Roosters have ever fielded.
But if you were to take the last six weeks as evidence of form, then the Roosters are sorely lacking and the comparison to the 2008 squad becomes more compelling — chips to the wing, one dangerous play and the recruitment of a former Bulldog who scored two tries against his former club.
The good news is that you only need 80 minutes to re-announce yourselves as a premiership contender. Just ask Manly after Saturday night. And getting back to that form starts this Friday against the Rabbitohs in the battle for the minor premiership.
Match stats per the Sydney Morning Herald (click to enlarge):