SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS 28 (G Inglis 3, B Goodwin tries, A Reynolds 6 goals) bt SYDNEY ROOSTERS 8 (M Jennings try, J Maloney 2 goals).
Crowd: 27,282 at ANZ Stadium.
If you are going to get your worst game in 12 months out of the way, it might as well be in round one following a premiership victory.
But hopefully it’s not a sign of things to come, because that was the most unenergetic, unfit, ill-disciplined and error-ridden the Roosters have looked since they were soundly beaten by the Titans in round 25 last year — and even in that game they had some imagination in attack.
You knew it was bad when, towards the end of the second half, Aidan Guerra was hunched over and looked as out of breath as John Goodman after five minutes on a Stairmaster.
You got the sense the Roosters might not have it in them when they elected to take the two early in the second half despite being inside the 10 with another six to go had they taken the tap.
(It’s a pet peeve of mine, when players elect to take the two; it’s a rare occasion to get six tackles within the 10 metre zone, and it’s a waving of the white flag in many respects — especially when the Chooks have such great on-the-line structured plays to draw from.)
You gathered they wouldn’t win when Michael Jennings threw a no-look ball to Nathan Merritt in the second half, and you knew it was definitely over when Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was pulled down in a one-on-one tackle inches from the line by Joe Picker with 10 to go.
Remember, the Roosters led the NRL in attack and defence last year. But against the Bunnies they failed to make a single line break, scoring only thanks to a charge down. They lost the possession battle 57-43. The conceded over 400 more running metres (1,405 to 984). They missed 32 tackles to 19.
But it’s round one. In the corresponding game last year, the Roosters lost by just two points less yet they looked 20 points worse in this performance.
And they are coming down from a massive year and a packed offseason to face a Bunnies team full of players with points to prove.
And despite the scoreline which blew out, the Roosters still had a shot near the end, down just eight points with 10 to go despite offering nothing in attack and having been out of fuel since prior to the half-time oranges. Their proud, scrambling defence did all it could — but in the end, it was just too much.
When Greg Inglis and the Burgii are on, the Rabbitohs are as good as any team in the premiership, and they were certainly on in this one.
I’m trying to find a silver lining, OK?
Man of the Match.
As is custom on these reviews, we don’t give man of the match to the opposing team — although it was clear that the Burgii and Inglis just destroyed us.
So who do you pick from a team that was so thoroughly outclassed, and especially when you score one try from a charge down and random kick-through?
For mine, the standout from the Roosters was Boyd Cordner, in his first game against the Rabbitohs in a year, followed closely by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and… well… that’s probably it.
And Boyd bombed a try with a loose pass in the first half.
Otherwise though, he ran the strongest in a team that really lacked any go-forward whatsoever, making 14 runs for 98 metres. The Roosters look infinitely better whenever he is on the field, and they looked toast during the middle third when he and Jake Friend were off.
And the Roosters do look much better with RTS at the back, especially when he returns the ball.
The Nightcrawler ran it 14 times for 124 metres, the most among the Roosters, and while he still has a lot to learn about the nuances of fullback play — positioning, attacking the clearing kick, attacking gaps in support — at least he looked the man most likely to conjure something from nothing in attack.
He had the Lurgii clutching at wake with one step in the second half, and managed four tackle busts in a team that couldn’t bust a balloon with a porcupine.
Jake Friend also played well, with 50 tackles and four runs. But aside from that, no-one stood out.
Sonny Bill had his quietest game since his corresponding effort last year, and JWH gave away three cheap, late penalties and failed to make much of a mark in attack aside from the first three minutes when he had four hit-ups.
The NRL — where unprecedented in-game investigations happen.
It’s the first game of the year. Hype is at a high, and fans — old and new — are tuning into watch the game’s oldest, fiercest rivalry play out.
And you want to overshadow it by calling up Channel Nine mid-broadcast to ask for all possible angles on a shoulder charge, despite there having already been a number of them throughout the game?
What the fuck?
Seriously, we had five uninterrupted minutes of “breaking news” because you wanted to instantly review an innocuous (albeit obvious) shoulder charge? What, it couldn’t wait until tomorrow morning? Or the weekend? Or when the match review committee meets?
Does Sonny Bill Williams have anything to worry about? Probably not. It didn’t connect with the head whatsoever, and it can be argued Ben Te’o’s was just as bad because that one came late and was front-on:
Should either be charged or suspended? Of course not. So why interrupt a live TV broadcast, in the first game of the year, to detract from the one thing you sell?
Seriously, Channel Nine have enough on their plate preparing lame Foghorn Leghorn segments. Let them be.
The Left Side Defence.
This has been a weakness since round one last year, and not much has changed. In the corresponding game in 2013 Chris McQueen scored the easiest of tries when he regathered a bomb, turned, blew his nose and had an angled run unopposed to the line.
In this one he again had his way, shredding Shaun Kenny-Dowall for two easy line breaks, while Bryson Goodwin somehow came down with the cherry among the trees to score an easy try to essentially seal the match.
For all the effort SKD has put into his defence, he still has some work to do in the focus department. His running game was on song in this one (12 direct runs, 76 metres, no errors) but he combined that with a few miscues in defence. He got caught in no-man’s land on several occasions in this one, not rushing up enough to stop a deep play but just enough to open up a gap behind him.
It left his winger (either Mini or RTS) vulnerable on those occasions and he missed four tackles to boot.
But it’s one game, played at a relentless pace that his teammates around him couldn’t match either, and at least he put his hand up in attack.
Far. King. Penalties.
The Tricolours gave a shitload away late, but it’s the timing of many of them that burns the club when they least need it.
Sure, Maloney got dudded when he tackled a player and got his hand locked up (seriously, what is he meant to do when the player won’t let him get his arm free?) and sure, maybe Reynolds should have been sin-binned.
But fuck, how many silly penalties can a team give away before it starts to click in?
It’s not a new argument. The Roosters finished last in penalties in 2013, averaging 8.3 penalties conceded a match — the worst since Manly in 2004 (8.33). They followed up that lack of respect for field position with 12 in this one, including two for shoulder charges.
They try too hard to dominate in the ruck, and get caught with the traditional hands-on-the-ball penalties (The Surgii reinvented that penalty last year).
And while that ended up not mattering last year, the extra effort they expelled in this game thanks to the continual repeat sets left them stuffed by the last 10 minutes.
Again, it is far too early to tell if this is the trend for 2014. But trends start somewhere, and this is not a good start.
Where to from here?
Despite the scoreline, the Roosters unbelievably still had a shot in this one: with 10 to go, they were somehow down just eight points.
They had conceded just two tries up to that point — one a freakish effort from who I regard as the best player in the game when fully fit.
They still managed to scramble to halt a number of tries in both halves, especially near the end of the first when they looked positively fucked. So the pride in their defence is still there, and despite being over-matched from an energy perspective they didn’t give up.
And for all those Rabbitohs fans whooping it up about a round one victory, premierships aren’t won in the first game, no matter how many Grand Final tickets you all just pre-bought.
Just look at last year.
Regardless, it’s a heavy thump back to earth for the defending champions, whose defence on the edges was again exposed and who looked severely overmatched by a rolling pack that just never quit.
The Roosters have the Eels next Saturday, and will need the nine-day recovery because they were absolutely battered in this one.
It takes just one loss to remind us all that Rugby League is not as easy as we all think.