SYDNEY ROOSTERS 26 (D Tupou A Guerra S Kenny Dowall M Jennings tries J Maloney 5 goals) bt MANLY SEA EAGLES 18 (J Taufua J Lyon S Matai tries J Lyon 3 goals).
Crowd: 81,491 at ANZ Stadium.
This writer cried with 30 seconds left. I admit it.
It’s been 11 long years, five coaches, a wooden spoon, three grand final losses, six years out of the finals series, five captains and a shit load of derision headed our way since the Roosters last won the premiership in 2002.
Well, that drought is over, and it came after a grand final win that should go down as an all-time classic. Like Ron Jeremy on Viagra, the Roosters came from behind twice and took the cherry, adding another premiership to the club’s impressive collection.
They overcame one of the more brutal defensive squads in the NRL to pile on 26 points and they stuck to the game plan when it counted. They fought on as their brave centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall played despite a broken jaw, a player who if he were playing for Souths would be an immortal by now.
They withstood wave upon wave of rolling forward packs and one of the great games by a halfback to win their 13th premiership.
Really, this game was a fuckin’ corker, and as this writer has said before there would have been no shame in losing to this iteration of the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles. To be 10 points in front is a humongous effort for a club that was written off as too old, past its best and on the downhill trajectory according to experts at the start of the season.
Beating a squad like this though makes it all the more special. While it was a monumental effort for Manly to be up 10 against such a brilliant defensive squad, it’s an even greater effort from the Roosters club to overcome that with 18 unanswered points in the most brilliant ways possible.
The key moment of the game really was when the Roosters were down 18-8. The Roosters put Sam Moa in a position to score under the posts, only to be stopped by an even better one-on-one tackle from George Rose — a tackle that may have gone down as a great if it weren’t for the play that followed: a beautiful short, flat ball from Mitchell Pearce to Aidan Guerra to bring it back to 18-14 with the conversion.
It typified an incredible game: Manly did enough to win, but the Roosters found an extra play in them to overcome it. But I don’t think I am alone in never feeling safe in this game, and it was only when the Roosters bundled Jorge Taufua out with 23 seconds to go that the tears flowed.
Man of the Match.
Daly Cherry-Evans won the Clive Churchill Medal, much to the boos of Roosters fans who expected one of their players to get it, considering, you know, they fuckin’ won.
Personally, I have no problem giving the award to a player from the losing squad if they truly are the best player on the field, and it’s hard to argue with DCE as the CC Medallist. He kept the Manly squad in it and had them in position to win the game when they really didn’t have much right to. His second half was exemplary and he repeatedly broke the Roosters’ league-best defence open.
It’s rare, but it’s not unheard of.
(However, it brings up a long-held bone of mine that must be picked: If DCE won for being the best player on the field, why did Luke Phillips not win in 2000? But I digress.)
From a Roosters point of view, who would you pick anyway? The Roosters clearly had more than one star in this game. What about Jake Friend, who continually carved them up the middle, followed the runners to enable offloads and tackled like it was going out of fashion?
Is it Daniel Tupou, who continually out-leapt everyone on the way to a try, a number of high catches and the complete decimation of the Wolfman’s confidence?
Was it SBW, who followed up his so-so (at best) first half with a line break and a line break assist which led to tries within that set as well as an offload and 91 metres off seven runs in the second half? We’re getting warmer — and had SBW won it in what may be his last game of Rugby League, it would have been cathartic.
But for mine, the best player on the field for the Roosters was James Maloney.
It wasn’t the kick to Tupou’s wing for the try which was inch perfect and came following a separate inch-perfect kick. It wasn’t the support play off SBW which led to his line break and the eventual try to SKD, and it wasn’t the beautiful kick in-goal that seemed too deep until you consider the Roosters have Mickey Muthafuckin’ Jenko.
No, it was a play with 20 to go which stood out more than the obvious claims for his man-of-the-matchery.
He shadowed the unusually quiet Kieran Foran as the five-eighth drifted from left to right looking for runners. As he looked to spread it to Lyon, Maloney came from behind and took down the Kiwi pivot, dislodging the ball and getting the ball back for the Roosters with decent position.
He slotted every kick at goal, and after his first long kick of the game went out on the full he was faultless in general play, kicking it five times for 88 metres with two of them leading directly to tries.
He also defended staunchly, missing just three tackles and none critical while making 16 including that huge one on his opposite. Welcome to Roosters Royalty, ye who barbecues.
The tries, my God the tries.
This was meant to be a grind-it-out, low scoring affair in the 4-0 week one mould. We wuz wrong.
Some of the tries the Roosters scored will go down among the great all-time grand final tries. The first was Tupou’s amazing leap above a gravity-hamstrung David Williams; many compared his efforts to that which made Izzy Folau famous, but we’ve been saying that for a while here. regardless, it’s the second straight week he’s shown that ability to leap a couple of feet in the air, or as Roosters fans call it: “a foot higher than anyone else”.
The second was a standard try but came off a typically beautiful read from Pearce, who drifted slightly to the right to hit a straight-running Aidan Guerra, who has earned himself the starting spot for next year with his play the past two weeks.
Long distance tries aren’t scored very often in Grand Finals, meaning the Roosters’ third was as rare as it was spectacular. Sam Moa hit SBW with a short ball with just DCE hanging on. SBW then got the right hand free and hit Maloney on the chest, who ran 40 metres before stepping late, hitting Mini with a questionable pass before the Count threw a long ball to the streaking SKD for the try out wide. Every movement in the play was scintillating and it got the Roosters the lead.
The final try was simply the nail.
Following a Sonny Bill break, the BBQ took the ball two plays afterwards, putting a grubber through that appeared far too deep. Even Brett Stewart thought so.
Then Jenko flew through, dove and planted the ball while still airborne, scoring one of the most incredible tries ever seen in a Grand Final. Not only was it the most exhilarating display of explosive speed off the mark and showing incredible skill to put it down in the first place, he put the game out of reach and showed no value for his own body, almost knocking himself out of action for the benefit of the team.
I was down the other end of the field, and had no idea the try happened until Shayne Hayne indicated try. Everyone around me agreed: There was NO WAY he could have scored that.
Then the replays showed what he did.
Where does this rate?
Considering the opposition, the stakes, the comeback from 10 points in arrears, the incredible tries, the swarming defence, the superstar moments, the hits (two Steve Matai textbook specials, one by Moa on Brett Stewart), where we were last year and where we’ve ended up, is there any question?
This was the greatest Roosters game this writer has ever had the privilege of watching.
The 2002 Grand Final will always be special because it was the first premiership many of us have ever been witness to. The sight of Brad Fittler, bloodied and ecstatic, holding his hands up in praise to the Roosters fans, is forever etched in Roosters fans’ folklore.
The 2010 Anasta field goal game remains the most exciting game I’ve ever watched, and probably ever will.
The 2000 Grand Final qualifier will always be up there; when God can pinch a pass from an Immortal, you can guarantee you’ll remain a top five game for as long as a memory can last.
But this game had it all, and doubled as the premiership decider. I will never forget Jenko’s touchdown, and I will never forget SBW’s offload to Maloney.
I will never forget looking at the big screen and seeing Sonny Bill Williams, in what may be his last game at the club, on his knees in the corner, praying to the almighty in thanks and almost shedding a tear while doing so.
But most importantly, I will never forget the sight of a proud Roosters warrior holding the trophy aloft when he was almost lost to the game.
By all accounts Anthony Minichiello should have retired three times. He had a bit of his spine shaved off, for Pete’s sake.
He has lost a step but made up for it with guile, positional brilliance, safety under every bomb kicked his way, superb captaining and pure class. If anyone out there hates Minichiello the person, they have severe problems that can only be treated with Prozac. Or weed.
Through everything, he held his head high, worked his arse off and became one of the game’s greatest captains.
He’s earned another contract, and then some. And in the process of the season he turned around the doubters. While he is past his best, the present is still pretty darned good. And nothing makes me happier than seeing persistence pay off, especially when lesser men would have given up after the first injury.
What a legend.
Thank you Roosters. And thank you, guys.
This has been, without question, one of the greatest seasons to be a Roosters fan. We saw crowds jump to a Sydney record of nearly 20K a game. We saw just six losses all year and saw an NRL record fall when the Roosters held six teams to nil. Repeat, the Roosters held six teams to fuckin’ nil.
They led the NRL in attack and defence. Four players played Origin.
Boyd Cordner and Jake Friend became stars. Pearce and Maloney made their critics shut the fuck up.
Sonny Bill Williams turned around his image in the space of 30 weeks, even though he didn’t need to. He’ll go down as a Roosters legend, no matter what happens this offseason.
Oh, and they won the premiership by beating one of the proudest collections of players in rugby league history.
But more importantly, we saw Roosters fans redeemed after years of copping bullshit about salary caps, substandard performances, off field bullshit and drug accusations.
We now have the perfect answer to any criticism: 2013 Premiers.
Thank you to the Sydney Roosters for a phenomenal season.
And on a personal note, thank YOU for making this a great year to start up 26 Rounds. From the get go you’ve appreciated the hard work the staff here have put in, and we’ve seen the site grow every month.
But readership doesn’t matter, it never has. What matters is that you guys are phenomenal readers and I have enjoyed every second of doing this all year.
Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you.
I’m looking forward to 2014 already.
Match stats sourced from SMH.com.au.