2000. Grand Final qualifier, Roosters versus Knights.
The Newcastle Knights drive 40 buses full of fans up the F3 to the Sydney Football Stadium.
Darren Albert scores and blows an awkward two-hand kiss to the crowd — obviously caught in the moment, he forgets that kisses to the camera are usually done with one fucking hand, and not just prior to half time with a 14-point lead. Andrew Johns sees Luke Ricketson at the tunnel at halftime, and tells him to enjoy Mad Monday.
The Roosters come out of the sheds. They hit back through Luke Phillips, who grubbers to a rookie winger named Anthony Minichiello, who offloads back to Phillips, who scores.
Then God takes an intercept off an immortal and scores.
Ryan Cross, erm, crosses. And Shannon Hegarty scores off a play started by the greatest cutout ever seen on a footy field, God face-balling three players to hit a streaking Matt Sing on the chest with a radius of 15 metres of room to move.
Bang, bang, bang, bang. Final score, 26-20. Joey throws a tantrum, along with his mouth guard.
2002. Semi Final, Roosters versus Knights.
Knights fans again pack the stadium. A brave Newcastle outfit, playing without Andrew Johns, are tied 6-all with a hot Roosters squad chasing their seventh straight win. The Knights have muscled up and have momentum with them early in the second half.
Sean Rudder makes a break from the scrum, and Minichiello chases. A try here in a dour slog might steal it.
The Count grabs him an inch short of the tryline.
The Knights attack off the play the ball, going right. Fitzgibbon races out of the line and takes an intercept from Danny Buderus at the 10 metre line. He races 90 metres from the middle of the field with Matt Gidley in pursuit from the other side of the field, the hair he no longer has pinned back against his scalp:
The Roosters would go on to win 38-12. Fitzgibbon would go bald a year later.
But bedlam would have to wait two weeks when the Roosters would hoist the trophy for the first time in 27 long, LONG years.
2013. Round 20, Knights versus Roosters.
The Roosters are engaged in a battle of words and shoulders involving two former Bulldogs wearing unfamiliar colours.
Then Darius Boyd catches a bomb from his 10 metre line and races away with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in pursuit. RTS tracks him into the corner but Darius Boyd scores. The tool drops the ball on the humble winger after a valiant chase, and celebrates like a WWE heel. Six-all.
The Knights then have the ball. Jarrod Mullen throws a cutout that is snatched out of thin air by Michael Jennings who races away with the referee and Daniel Tupou in pursuit. The Roosters go on to win 28-12 and claim the minor premiership six weeks later.
2013. Grand final qualifier, Roosters versus Knights.
The next chapter is yet to be written. But if history is an indicator, an intercept try is on the cards.
The Knights field a team filled with 30-somethings and players who disrespect brave opposition for no apparent reason other than misplaced hubris (Boyd, Joey Leilua) and who bring down proud warriors such as Buderus with them.
The Roosters welcome back one of the game’s best front rowers and field one of the greatest players of this generation. The Roosters still have Minichiello; the Knights still have Buderus. The penultimate game is at the same stadium with a different name. The Knights are driving a shit load of Novacastrians up the F3.
A lot of things have changed, but some things remain the same.
Whether that’s true of the result, we’ll find out on Saturday night.
Roosters team for Finals, Week 3: Anthony Minichiello, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Aidan Guerra, Sonny Bill Wiliams, Frank-Paul Nu’uasala. Interchange: Daniel Mortimer, Mitchell Aubusson, Isaac Liu, Luke O’Donnell, Dylan Napa, Marty Kennedy.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves returns following his one match suspension, and Aidan Guerra has been promoted to the starting side in place of Mitch Aubusson who slides back to an extended bench.
Boyd Cordner has not been named and is unlikely to play despite speculation to the contrary, with coach Trent Robinson unwilling to risk him after a long lay-off and after just a week’s worth of running.
The Roosters’ defence has returned after a six-week malaise, letting in just 12 points in their past two matches (although against the Rabbitohs they were lucky on at least one occasion). While teams are breaking the line out wide as evidenced by three breaks from David Williams in week one of the finals and Nathan Merritt’s break a week earlier, the Roosters have been able to scramble to stave off the majority of long-range attacks. This suggests they are tempting teams to go around them rather than through them and trusting their defence to recover as Mini alluded to after the Sea Eagles clash.
But this game is to be adjudicated by Messrs Ashley Klein and Shayne Hayne, considered by the NRL to be the best in the business but hardly so by Roosters fans. Under Klein this season as per rltables, the Roosters have been awarded 35 penalties but conceded 51 in just six games, losing three of them. For a team that has lost just six games all year, that’s an alarming ratio.
The Roosters, frankly, have given up on giving a shit about the penalty counts. They tried to play nice against the Titans, giving away just four penalties, and lost for their troubles.
However, it almost cost them in the epic against Manly. They gave away 11 penalties and were awarded just five. It enabled the Manly forwards to continue to bash away at the Chooks in the most bruising encounter the staff here at the luxurious two-storey penthouse 26 Rounds offices can remember.
Manly ran it for an incredible 1,759 metres to the Roosters’ 1,145 and continually pushed the Roosters back with every tackle. The Sea Eagles also made four line breaks to none, and had a couple of passes stuck for the Manly squad we might have faced a different team this week, while having to play last week.
Coulda, woulda, shoulda. Whatever. We’re here now, and face a Knights squad that is on a roll.
How they’ll play
The Roosters can find space on the fringes against the Knights, as they did in their round 20 clash. While Jenko scored an intercept try and the 28-12 scoreline flattered the minor premiers, there were some notable chinks to attack in the Knights’ armour.
(And sorry for the poor pun there, one that doubles as a cliché. A double whammy of shitty writing. Kudos to me. But I digress.)
They also scored one from a kick when SKD outleapt James McManus. The Scot is reportedly struggling with a leg injury, which means that if he plays the Roosters will bomb it his way with SKD and RTS the targets out there who are both better leapers, especially against a guy with a leg complaint. If he doesn’t play his likely replacement is Kevin Naiqama, who is explosive in attack but is still raw, and he spilled it twice last week against the Storm.
What is forgotten about that game against the Knights also is the puzzling game from a then-out-of-form Maloney. 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.
He is in much better form now after getting past the Origin hangover and we can expect his running game will test the fringes wherever possible.
But the most space and easy metres will be found at and around dummy half. Jake Friend was incredible in their round 20 clash and while the Knights are a far better outfit than the squad that suited up that day, the dummy half should be able to find easy metres. As an indicator, Cam Smith took it for 11 runs and 88 metres last week but didn’t get the support he usually gets from the likes of Billy Slater, who spilled it four times. Even Mick Ennis – who’d find a way not to run on a treadmill — found the space for five runs the week before.
Their marker play can be suspect and while they have tough forwards in good form in the shape of Jeremy Smith and Beau Scott, their big front rowers – Mason and Fa’alogo – and young whipper-snappers — Rochow and McKinnon — can be found grasping at the little guys.
This is a big test for Jake Friend after a career year, and a lot will fall on his shoulders to hit forwards off short balls on the line and to probe like a toey alien.