SYDNEY ROOSTERS 30 (Jennings, Moa, Kenny-Dowall, Tuivasa-Sheck, Cordner tries; Maloney 5 goals) bt BRISBANE BRONCOS 26 (Hunt 2, Maranta, Reed, Thaiday tries; Parker 3 goals).
Crowd: 33,381 at Suncorp Stadium.
The Roosters gave away 10 penalties and received just three. They dropped the pill 12 times, including twice in goal of which one led to a try. They lost the possession count 54 to 46. They had just two offloads. They were again dominated by the opposing forward pack, running it less than a kilometre and giving up 1,400 metres.
So naturally, they won by four at Suncorp Stadium in one of the best comebacks the club and its fans have been witness to. Down 26-18 with five to go, the Roosters pulled out two tries to stun the Broncos on their home turf to leave the Broncos faithful with another four point loss to the Roosters up in Brisbane (they lost 34-30 in 2010, when SKD scored four tries).
Those stats above? They’re almost identical to those dished up against Souths in round one, and we got pumped like Debbie in Dallas. But the Roosters used five minutes of perfect football to snatch the two points like a marble rye from an old lady.
Their attack — when they held the ball — was exceptional. They again scored their tries without the assistance of a kick, and split four of them between the left and the right sides. And even when they were down eight points, you just knew the Roosters would have the attack to be able to pull out a miracle.
But let’s be honest: The Roosters should not have won this game, even though on talent alone the Broncos should never have been in it. They allowed a try from a spilled ball under the post, and another from a weird play out of dummy half when the Broncos eventually found their halfback on the blind on the fifth tackle. You can’t plan against that, but they were soft tries.
Their attack is better than it was last year and they aren’t relying on Sonny Bill Williams, which is a great sign for 2015 and beyond.
But their defence needs some work, because that incredible scrambling that had the Roosters in the record books in 2013 has been largely non-existent.
Man of the Match.
The Roosters relied on their tried-and-true attacking structure, and the pilot of that attack is Mitchell Pearce, whose organisation and poise in the final five minutes saved the day. He was like Denzel Washington in Flight, but without all the coke — and his pass to Boyd was Denzel flying the plane upside down.
He is beginning to master which options to take when they are under the pump. In that last five minutes he probed the line and aimed his forwards were there might be a weakness, like the raptors in Jurassic Park looking for weaknesses in the electrified fence. In the final five minutes he excelled, getting Roger Tuivasa-Sheck aimed against the weak defence in the line of Hoffman who missed six tackles last week and was fended off with ease by The Nightcrawler to get the Roosters back in the game.
He then went across field after a rare repeat set for the Roosters from Daniel Mortimer, finding Boyd Cordner for the winning try off the double decoy play that, after 12 months of it being in action, no-one can stop because Pearce is finding the ball-runners on the chest every time.
Backtrack to 2012 and Pearce might have been inclined to throw the cutout past The Sheck and look for the big play, but in 2014 he realised RTS was in the best position and capable of making something from nothing. And his pass to Boyd was as hard as it gets, but it surprised no-one that it was right on the money.
His kicking game was superb, finding 310 metres from seven kicks. He only ran it to the line twice, but with the cattle around him he doesn’t need to run it.
Moa is unbelieveable.
He scored his second try of the year and is becoming impossible to stop close to the line. But up the middle of the field and when they need a run, Moa can always muster a huge effort when others struggle.
He’s low to the ground and as such has a quick play the ball, getting the Roosters on a mini-roll. And he’s just impossible to tackle without having three men pull him down. He was the only forward besides FPN to come even close to cracking triple figures — and was only held back because his team mates failed to hold the ball with any consistency which limited his chances to run it.
His form is at least partially making up for a drop in form from his front row partner.
Where is 2013 Jared?
He is still the defensive leader for this squad, and his energy can be infectious. But his attack from last year has fallen off the cliff, and this is the second time his forward pack has been dominated.
Against Souths they lost the running metres battle by more than 400 metres, and in this one they didn’t even crack a kay. Is JWH’s decline the entire reason for the forward pack’s performances in these two games? Of course not, but it’s certainly a microcosm of an overall trend — and he’s the forward pack leader.
Against the Broncos he had just 10 runs for 74 metres, and missed four tackles to go along with his 24 makes. This is not the Jared Waerea-Hargreaves from last year, when he elevated himself into the conversation as one of the two best props in the game along with Andrew Fifita.
He averaged 13.8 runs and 122.3 metres last season along with 1.47 offloads, 31 tackles and just 1.21 misses. This season? It’s only been three games, but those averages have fallen to just 10 runs, 90.7 metres and has just two offloads total, with over 26 tackles and 2.33 misses.
Now a lot of this may come down to the Roosters using their outside backs to cart the ball up on the first three tackles of every set, but his energy and impact, and especially his speed off the line is all down on last year.
Maybe he just needs a game against his old club and bitter rivals to get that engine cranking back to 2013 levels.
Manly next — where are we?
The Roosters are streets ahead of where they were at this time last year, in attack at least. After three rounds last year the Roosters had scored just 34 points, and they exceeded that in the second half last week. They can break the line with ease, and they still have their most dynamic backrower to come back — SBW’s offloads will add a dimension to this attack that has been lacking the past two weeks, and he frees up those around him purely based on the threat he poses.
But defensively, there is a long way to go before we can even mention the 2014 squad in the same breath as last year’s record-setters. Last year’s team does not allow 26 points to leak, especially against a team that lacks any kicking game whatsoever.
What they can fall back on it seems is an attack that can shred any defence, even if they run a quarter mile less than their opponents and even if they triple the penalty count. But I’d prefer they didn’t continue to flirt with danger.