SYDNEY ROOSTERS 40 (A Guerra 2 M Jennings 2 M Aubusson J Friend D Tupou tries J Maloney 6 goals) bt NEWCASTLE 14 (J Leilua 2 tries T Roberts 3 goals).
Crowd: 37,753 at Allianz Stadium.
There is no-one among the Roosters faithful who would have predicted any of this. In the week prior to the game the Roosters had their name tarnished with terms such as “HGH” and “underworld”.
Luke O’Donnell pulled out with a hamstring injury in a game many thought we’d need him most. The possible return of Boyd Cordner didn’t eventuate — and nor did the boost in moral his addition would have provided the team after a tough week on the front pages of the tabloids.
And to top all that shit off, Sonny Bill Williams was in doubt with food poisoning.
I am sure Sonny is eating home cooked meals from now on but if anyone is looking for a conspiracy theory, start there. Who actually did prepare Sonny’s meal?
The Knights had just beaten the Storm and the giddy Johns boys were already talking up their chances, both of them bouncing around the rooms like ADHD kids after drinking their first soft drink.
This writer’s 18-10 prediction at the start of the week was beginning to look generous, and after 30 minutes when the Roosters couldn’t score but came unbelievably close at least four times, the writing was on the wall that the upset was afoot.
But then Sonny, MP7, Jake Friend, Maloney, Jenko and Aidan Guerra — the team as a whole really — turned it on and put in one of the most dominant 40 minute displays seen in NRL finals history, taking the team from the sewer that the Roosters name was dragged through all week to within 80 minutes of their first premiership in 11 years.
They threw caution to the wind and assumed that for once the 50/50 calls might go their way for a fucking change, and they did. A forward pass led to the Roosters’ second try, they got a penalty for unnecessary head contact (where was that call in Round 26 when one of the Burgii threw a kick into the equation?) and somehow the referees missed a six again call when Jenko interfered with a Mullen pass in space.
It all helped the Roosters to one of the more dominant attacking games seen in a Grand Final qualifier.
From the 30th minute to the 64th minute the Roosters scored 32 points, mixing the spectacular (Jenko’s two tries and Tupou’s spectacular jump and one hand putdown) with the grinding, persistent tries they’ll need if they are to beat Manly this week.
No team in the NRL can put on points in a hurry, one after the other, like this Roosters team can. It’s that spurtability (to invent a word) that gives them their best chance to hoist the trophy for the first time since God did it in 2002.
And one can argue that — given their position on the ladder in the two years prior to this one — this premiership could be more special.
They’ve outlasted the root of all evil (Souths) to make it this far when at the start of the year “experts” such as Buzz Rothfield predicted they’d just miss the eight.
(He then went on to wonder how the Roosters could fit all those players under the salary cap. Wait, I thought you said they were too shit to even contend this year? Which one is it?)
Oh, and their CEO is apparently Khoder Nasser:
If that’s the case, he’s done one fine fucking job, a job the experts never thought could be done.
They are the most penalised team since the 1994 Knights squad on averages and receive the second-least of any club on average this year. They’ve been accused of taking drugs and not having the halves to be able to win a competition.
Despite all that, they’ve reached their sixth Grand Final in 13 years, doing so by holding six teams to nil this year — an NRL record — and sporting both the best attack and defence in the competition.
It’s just 80 minutes away. It’s come down to this.
Thirty weeks ago we were coming off a season when we sacked our coach, our centre and were in the running for the fucking spoon.
What a year so far. And its 80 minutes away from ending on the best note possible.
Man of the Match.
The 26 Rounds staff of unpaid indentured servants did not watch the broadcast, but they report that Sonny Bill was given the Channel 9 Man of the Match award.
It’s this under-reporting that has led to said servants being fired, but if the report was correct this writer can live with it. After all, SBW did throw five offloads, make 98 metres, set up a line break and get into Joey Leilua, which is always a welcome sight.
At the game though, the standouts for this writer were Jake Friend, Mitchell Pearce and Aidan Guerra — the latter two who combined perfectly all game in the same way Pearce and Luke Lewis did in State of Origin One.
But for this writer, Jake Friend was the man of the match.
He continually picked out rubbish marker play, dishevelled line defence and the right runners every time.
He had eight runs for 132 metres, including a 60 metre dash off a loose ball to score right in front of this writer. He had two line break assists and made 28 tackles without a miss. He had no errors (he has just three all season) and no penalties.
Souths fans would disagree but this guy is now the third best hooker in the comp on his own: he’s steadier than Issac Luke and possesses the better passing game and footy brain. His running game is fast catching up to the Kiwi rake as well.
But he wins the 26 Rounds MotM award by nothing more than the width of a pube, because really there was not a bad player for the Chooks in this one.
He only just shades a career performance from Aidan Guerra — discussed in more detail below — and a superb game from Mitchell Pearce, he really put it all together in one of the best games of the half’s career.
He had 10 runs for 94 metres, two offloads, two line break assists, two try assists and 12 kicks for 443 metres — every one of them either accurate and just short of the tryline in attacking space which camped the Knights down that end, or long and never failing to find grass.
But it was his running game that was truly the stand-out. He stepped like Freddy to break the line and set up the near-try for the BBQ. He then supported Napa’s break, stepping out of two attempted tackles to keep the ball alive for Jennings’ first try. He also threw the inside ball for Jenko’s second and threw some beautiful cutouts following probing darts.
Guerra brings back the in-and-away.
Aidan has always been capable of games like this. He’s a maladroit runner of the ball, all arms flailing, and can mix in tremendous footwork to spin through tackles.
We might have expected a game like this against, say, the Tigers. But not in a Grand Final qualifier.
The lanky fucker with the thumbs-up pre-game intro was impossible to stop against the Knights in what was, by far, the greatest game in his young career.
He played the full 80 and repaid the faith coach Trent Robinson had in him when he started him over Mitch Aubusson, and put every one of the 80 minutes to good use.
He ran it 18 times for 218 metres, with 12 tackle busts, four line breaks, an offload and two tries.
None of that was a misprint.
He channelled his inner Peter Jorgensen with two in-and-aways down the right flank in the second half and almost scored twice more but for desperate defence.
He possesses one of the more impossible running techniques to defend against on the line or in broken field play, and his footwork is ballerina-like — especially as we all saw for the first try in the second half when he stepped off his left and spun out of the tackle on the landing to touch down past two defenders.
We knew he had this in him, but hadn’t really seen it all season. He was the only Rooster who played first grade that didn’t make an appearance on the Weekly Player Rankings (excluding Samisoni Langi and Tinirau Arona). So it might have been expected next year if he were able to shake the injury bug he’d copped this year.
We certainly didn’t expect it in the GF qualfier. And anyone who said they did is a liar. But there is no harder player to tackle in the game than Guerra when he is red-hot.