SYDNEY ROOSTERS 24 (Kenny-Dowall 2, Cordner, Maloney tries; Maloney 4 goals) bt CRONULLA SHARKS 18 (Leutele, Graham, Feki tries; Gordon 2 goals).
Crowd: 12,163 at Remondis Stadium.
It was a win. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t the 2013 vintage Roosters we’ve come to expect. But fuck, after three straight losses by a combined 11 points, it was a win the players needed, a win the fans needed.
Well, most fans. Some have become accustomed to greater things, and that’s fair enough. But enjoy the win after a three-game losing streak, for fuck’s sake.
Should we have won this game comfortably? Probably — although Gallen’s Sharks are a different beast to Arona’s Sharks, and the struggling Cronulla club came out and displayed a heart they haven’t had pretty much all year to nearly snag a win at home.
And after three straight losses and three straight second halves without points, can we really complain that this wasn’t 13 plus? Plenty did, and they have every right to if that’s how they feel. But when we play bad and still win, that’s a relatively good sign that the effort at least is there.
Yes, they dropped the ball like a bar of soap in prison, and tackled Wade Graham and Ricky Leutele as if they were caked in shit.
But the Sharks matched the Roosters break-for-break and scored two dynamic tackle busting tries as well as a breathtaking long-range effort, while Aidan Guerra tripped over the Ghost of Tom Joad and the referees — who have gone to the video on EVERY OTHER OCCASION THAT A BALL HAS CROSSED THE LINE — refused to go upstairs to look at Boyd Cordner’s tap-back for JWH’s almost-try.
Yet the Roosters still scrapped their way to a win. To call the Roosters’ performance rubbish on Saturday is to denigrate the way the Sharks played and especially defended — and the bottom-feeders played arguably their best game of the year.
Regardless, there is a lot of work to be done. It seems that Trent Robinson hasn’t yet settled on a bench rotation, they aren’t breaking the line through an attacking structure but through individual brilliance, and there isn’t any consistency in their defence. They can be opened up with late passes before the line and early spreads before the 50, and they look a team under pressure.
But there were promising signs for the coming weeks. James Maloney had his best game all year, and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is becoming a star before our eyes — his ball-playing skills from the back give the Roosters the dimension that Anthony Minichiello simply cannot provide. But more on RTS below.
The Roosters deployed the grubber far more than they have in the past four years to mixed effect, but it’s something different at least: Maloney in particular had a clever grubber off the inside of his foot in the second half aimed for Mitchell Pearce.
They aren’t anywhere near their form from last year, that much is evident. But for just the second time this year they managed to pull out a close game. Yes, they could just as easily be 1-6 at this stage; but they could also be 6-1.
This year, clearly, is going to be a much harder slog than we ever envisioned. That target on their backs is a real thing, and every game is played with a finals intensity.
So let’s enjoy gutsy, determined wins when we get them, for fuck’s sake.
Man of the Match.
It’s hard to argue with Shaun Kenny-Dowall as the Man of the Match. It was his best attacking game since 2010, and he proved to the club he’s a winger — especially with talk of a certain centre joining the club next year.
He had his best running game in at least two seasons, making easy yardage outwide against the sieve-like defence of Todd Carney, Jonathan Wright and Blake Ayshford — 261 metres in fact off 17 runs, with three line breaks, five tackle busts and two tries, as well as five tackles without a miss.
He was back to his steppy best, and repeatedly found near-gaps all game. His runaway try was superb and a great read of a cross-field kick: some might have been tempted simply to stay out and mark the winger, but the ball was there and he nailed it at speed.
But not far behind him was The Nightcrawler and Sam Moa — both of whom came up huge when required.
Moa has his best game in a month coming up against Andrew Fifita and
Hank Moody’s agent Charlie Runkel Bryce Gibbs with 15 runs and 151 metres. He was the first to put his hand up of the forwards and every single run made an impact. He’s a choad of a man, as long as he is wide, and if there is one guy no-one should want to tackle at full speed, it’s Moa.
And Dodge was just marvellous, with 179 metres off 18 runs with three offloads and six tackle busts. He’s getting all grownsed up before our eyes… which begs the question:
What’s Dodge’s Ceiling?
There are three young fullbacks at the moment who are set to light the game up for the next decade: Anthony Milford, James Tedesco and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, the latter of who is probably the least talked about because, this year at least, the highlights are fewer and further between than the other two.
And that’s a lot of what we saw out of Dodge: a young man who has a right-foot step that people had begun to figure out, and behind that, not much else.
But watching his game develop every 80 minutes is the most pleasing aspect of this season, by far.
He’s learning when to use his step and when to just chew the metres on kick returns, and he is getting more involved in the backline. It started with the try he scored in the 74th minute against the Broncos when he used that under-rated fend he has to stroll over rather than his step, and his play in the line has only gotten better.
He threw the final ball for Cordner’s try and is playing as a second five-eighth now. I can’t begrudge him the intercept he threw because the Roosters haven’t had anyone willing to throw that pass outside of SBW.
But his running game is becoming more comfortable, and in broken play he’s devastating. Milford does his best work in tight spaces, Tedesco his while in the line or off the back of his halfback. In broken play, I’d back RTS over all three to come up with the more spectacular effort, no doubt.
That effort came while he was playing fullback in defence, one of the rare times he’s done so this year, and it shows why he needs to move there permanently. Mini hasn’t come close to doing anything like that since 2006.
RTS is the man most likely to decimate a broken kick chase in the comp. He’s been playing fullback in attack, but the reins must be handed over, in full, NOW.
To answer the question of what his ceiling is? I don’t know. Once he learns to back up his offloaders and to attack lines, and gets better positionally, he’ll be the best fullback in the competition — but even that ceiling may be too low.
Maybe there is no ceiling.
Where improvement lies.
I said this on Twitter but it’s worth repeating: Sonny Bill Williams has been a very good second rower this year. When he becomes Sonny Bill Williams again, look out.
This year he hasn’t broken the line nor set up a try, and he’s largely been well contained despite the metres he’s making. He’s offloading well (2.5 per game) but not in that SBW fashion that electrifies the crowd, and he’s looking a little mortal this year.
But a break out game is just around the corner, and alongside RTS he will give the Roosters the x-factor they desperately need more of.
The Roosters also need to improve their kicking game, especially on the line: they tried a few grubbers, which was promising and totally unexpected, but their chips to the wings are being read well and the wingers are being blocked (illegally, mind you) by the defending centres.
Meanwhile, their passing game, save for the Parramatta game and parts of the Broncos game, has been well short of last year. Mitchell Pearce isn’t taking it right to the line before throwing tunnel balls as he did last year, and the defence has started to figure out the decoy structures too.
They also need to get better defensively. That swarming defence that nailed opposition teams last year isn’t quite there yet, and six players missed three or more tackles against the Sharks.
But they are 3-4. They’ve been in every contest bar one. Their three game losing streak is broken, and this season has been a dog’s breakfast for every club, not just the Roosters. Just have a look at the NRL ladder: flip it and see if that’s more how you saw the ladder looking compared to one with the Broncos, Titans and Tigers in the top five.
The Bondi club is close to figuring it all out, and they could do worse than winning games along the way.