SYDNEY ROOSTERS 36 (M Jennings 3 S Kenny-Dowall S Moa J Waerea-Hargreaves tries, J Maloney 6 goals) bt WIGAN WARRIORS 14 (J Charnley 2 J Burgess tries, M Smith goal).
Crowd: 31,515 at Allianz Stadium.
It’s good to see that as the calendar passes into a New Year, not much changes. We all want to lose weight, quit smoking, drink more water and fart less at the dinner table, but chances are we sneak back into our old habits and remain ensconced in a comfortable status quo.
The same can be said of the Roosters, who looked rusty and tried a few things but ultimately depended on their incredible defence to counter penalty after penalty after penalty and claim yet another piece of silverware in defeating the Wigan Warriors for the World Club Challenge, their third all-time.
It’s good to see Michael Jennings has jumped straight back into scoring like he’s Craig Thomson at A Touch of Class, grabbing four-pointers by the triple through opportunism and pure speed and swerve.
It’s good to see James Maloney is still slotting the ball through the posts like he’s throwing a toothpick down a hallway or feeding a Tic-Tac to a whale. It’s great to see Dylan Napa snapping people like he’s a Winter Olympian trying to break through a shoddy door at the Olympic Village in Sochi.
And it’s just heart-warming to once again see the referees play the safe card and not send someone off for a high tackle when the guy making said high tackle is someone not named Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. Yes, that deserved a double negative.
Ah, the footy. It’s good to be back.
The Roosters were as smooth as Seal’s cheeks in this one, with many an errant pass and far too many penalties and errors in the second half in a game that, really, had a final score which flattered the visitors.
But one thing remained constant from 2014: that staunch defence that can just flatten teams into horrible field position — which is almost always let off by cheap penalties to get them out of trouble.
The first half was the Roosters of the final 20 minutes of the Grand Final: slick, dominating and infused with brilliance from a centre that was unappreciated by another club for some unknown reason.
The first 20 minutes of the second half reminded this writer a lot of the first 20 minutes of the GF’s second half: sloppy, error strewn and full of penalties.
But as is the case with this club, they regained their composure, stuck to the game plan — which now includes a SECOND double decoy play involving both props near the post with the hooker as the director — to take home their third bit of silverware in the past six months.
Man of the Match.
Channel 9 gave it to Jake Friend, and it’s kind of hard to argue with that assessment. He was a menace out of dummy half and his running game made up for a lack of one from his halves (although to be fair, Mitchell Pearce was probably still feeling the effects from a cork suffered at the Nines).
He set up the Moa’s try with that double-decoy play near the posts, with JWH the decoy and Moa the second wide, as seen here:
He then essentially set up the second thanks to a nifty grubber and chase to put Bowen under pressure, and set up a third for Waerea-Hargreaves with a flat ball that mirrored the first try.
He made a ton of tackles, and when he came off for a spell the Roosters lacked a bit of spark around the ruck that returned when he came back on. He’s firmly in line for Queensland’s hooker spot should Cam Smith go down, and this game only further proved how much he can do for a guy so low to the ground.
But I think the award should have been shared with Michael Jennings.
He was absolutely everywhere, and there is no-one better at anticipating a loose ball, pass or bounce in the game. He sealed the Roosters’ premiership with one of the great grand final tries, and simply continued that form when he started off this match by catching a flat ball from Pearce and fending off at the exact same time, creating space that only he can with a swerving run to the line.
He then pounced on the loose ball from Friend’s kick for his second, and almost had a hat-trick by half time from a near intercept before he completed it in the second half, picking up a sloppy handling mistake from the Warriors to sprint for a WCC record-setting effort.
His defence, as always, was first class and he is just a constant threat out there. Over 20-40 metres, there is no-one in the game that is as explosive and agile as Jenko. The very threat of him enables so much for his inside and outside men, and it still amazes me that this guy fell into our laps.
The chants from the Chookpen said it all, and they chanted it three times on Saturday night: “Jennings’ a Rooster!”
The Red Menace.
Dylan Napa has a few nicknames, and all seem pretty apt: Nap Time, sNapa, The Bell Ranga, Big Red; the list could go on and on and on. But the one that I believe suits him best is “The Red Menace”.
He hits like Nigel Plum used to for the Roosters, but always gets up with a blank expression on his face, unapologetic, like he was put on earth to do just that: hit fuckers.
On Saturday I counted four big hits The Red Menace put on, and he’s developing quite the tackling combination with Sonny Bill on the right. And he just keeps coming, and coming, and coming.
His energy is perpetual and his running game is really starting to catch up with an intensity that is just part of his approach to the game.
His leg drive through tackles is becoming better, but that’s not really what he’s there for at this stage of his career. We already have JWH, Moa, SBW and Boyd Cornder to do the running. The Red Menace can come in and just cause repeated havoc with copybook tackling and intimidation.
The kid has no fear, and if you combine his efforts with the excellent running game of Remi Casty, the Roosters can fill the absence of Luke O’Donnell by committee.
In a full strength squad, though, he’s relegated to reserves once again because Mitch Aubusson has that spot off the bench wrapped up.
But Napa will be the first called in when injury strikes, and it will.
Welcome back referees, what with all your inconsistencies and foibles.
But thankfully, the parents chose one of more alliterative and excellent names in history, and one that helped him avoid being sent off because he wasn’t Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
It’s fair to say that if that hit came from the Roosters prop, he’s facing an early shower and a good few weeks on the sideline. But it wasn’t, and it further highlighted — in the first real game of the pre-season, mind you — that what is bad for the goose to do isn’t necessarily as bad if the gander does it.
The referees were indeed in fine form in this one, and if they are to get a bad performance out of the way they might as well do it now.
But I was sitting in Bay 35 — basically halfway — and in the first half alone there were three consecutive sets of six in which the Wigan squad was blatantly off-side, and there really couldn’t be any debate on it. Their players didn’t even feign an attempt to get back either by stretching a foot back or actually getting onside; they were simple a metre or two offside for three straight plays.
The Roosters probably got away with a few things too: the Friend pass to Moa may have floated forward, for example. But hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come for 2014, because the performance of the referees in the Nines wasn’t much better.
We may need to get a tetanus shot ready, because Anthony Minichiello looked a little rusty in this one. Positionally he was fine, and his first half showed a running game we hadn’t seen from him since the mid-Naughties — eating the metres and making the yards off hit-ups with relative ease.
But he suffered from a severe case of the dropsies. The first was from a Maloney kick when he outleapt Matt Bowen only to drop a (granted, difficult) catch over the line. He then had a mix-up in-goal with Daniel Tupou, allowing Josh Charnley to score his first, before attacking a low kick with an eye on chewing metres only to have it bounce off his chest to gift the Wiganers more possession.
If there’s a game to shake off the rust (just like the referees), it might as well be one the Roosters won by 22 points before the season proper. But the errors had the Warriors thinking they had a chance, and teams such as Souths and Manly won’t be so forgiving, especially because their kicking games far exceed the efforts of the woeful Blake Green and Matty Smith.
Where to from here?
The Roosters weren’t their usual “best in the NRL in attack or defence” in this one, and nor should they be in what was largely a glorified trial match. The best thing to come out of the game was no injuries — and yet another trophy in the cabinet, of course.
But they scored once through individual brilliance, twice more through sloppy play from the opposition and twice through front-rowers.
The biggest indicators of a team’s potential is its structure, its set plays and its composure. There was a bit of it in this game but not enough to worry anyone heading into round one next week.
But compared to where they were at this point last year, they are ahead of the curve. Jenko and SBW have had a full offseason with the squad, while Casty looks like a young running version of LOD with a similar full pre-season of NRL training under the belt.
Their youngsters, namely Napa, Friend (just 24 this year) and Tupou are noticeably better than they were in February last year.
They should start as favourites to take out their second consecutive premiership. And either way, they are starting it as champions of the world. They literally have every piece of 13-a-side silverware that is available: the Premiership, the Minor Premiership and now the World Club Challenge.
Ah, shit, my bad: we don’t have the Charity Shield or the Ron Coote Cup. I guess we are forever in a shadow, huh?