SYDNEY ROOSTERS 34 (Guerra, Kenny-Dowall, Tupou, Cordner, Friend, Minichiello tries; Maloney 5 goals) bt ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 14 (Creagh, Green, Beale tries; Widdop goal).
Crowd: 38,784 at Allianz Stadium.
If anyone argues that Anzac Day is not the best non-finals day of football on the rugby league calendar, feel free to channel your inner Anasta and tell them they’re off their head. The pomp, the build up, the pageantry and ultimately the footy never fails to disappoint, and win or lose it’s the best day of the season — but I guess it’s easier to say that when you win the past two events by a combined score of 68-24.
It was a battle of two proud clubs that have been starved of success: the St George-ILLAWARRA Dragons having won just one title in their existence, playing against a Roosters squad that has just one premiership in the past nine months. Both won just one of their previous four matches heading into this game, with the winner at the end of this game set to jump into the top eight or stay there, the loser relegated to a 20 per cent winning percentage through the past five weeks of footy.
Yet it took just one half of footy for the Roosters to announce to the rugby league world that they are back from an abyss located on a struggle street near the shores of Shit Creek while bereft of a paddle.
Maybe it was because the sun was shining for a God-damned change, but that was as good as the Roosters have looked for a month, as they arguably put in their best performance of the season against a team that defended hard and threw everything but a Ben Creagh Punch-‘n’-Backpedal at them.
The Roosters passed the pill around like a bong at 4:20 and scored one try that will go into the contest for team try of the season, an effort that started on one sideline, went to the other and beyond and was finished off with an offload at speed to a guy that was in the first row of the stadium just moments earlier. If that explanation sucks, let the Gif do the talking:
Watch it again: Jenko is tackled and is getting up when he catches the ball from Tupou who is a metre over the line. He sprints away and finds Tupou with a falling offload, despite Tupou being a metre out five seconds earlier. It’s just one example of just how skilled this team is on its day, and its day was certainly Anzac Day.
But the most important aspect that shone through is that the Roosters have finally adapted to the rule changes, which we will discuss in greater detail below.
Man of the Match.
For last year’s preview of the Anzac Day clash I predicted Jake Friend would come away with the Ferris-Collier Medal for best-on-ground. Instead, they gave it to Boyd Cordner.
This year I predicted Boyd would take it home again, but they gave it to Jake Friend, which answers the age old question: should you predict the exact opposite of what Jarmel reckons?
Probably — but I still feel that Boyd Cordner was the best on ground despite a massive return to form from our rake.
Cordner was omnipotent in this one with 15 runs for 118 metres and several late-footwork darts that grabbed the extra metres. Everything they did came off the back of his play the ball, and he was the first back-rower to take it up.
His try was the most deserved try of the afternoon given the yeoman’s work he’d put in all game. Every big run I noticed came from the guy wearing number 11 on his back.
To be fair, Jake was just behind him with those 42 tackles, 39 metres from four runs and a fantastic, inspiring kick-and-chase to score a try between Jason Nightingale and Michael Witt.
Aidan Guerra deserves a special mention too, and would also have come close to MotM honours. He scored the first try of the match and busted 10 fucking tackles along the way while making 23 tackles and missing none.
With Kevin Proctor in the Roosters’ sights as the replacement right-side second rower for Sonny Bill Williams next year, Guerra is doing a swell job of locking up the lock spot for this year and beyond.
Trent Robinson has figured it out.
Last year the game was significantly slower. Players could retreat the 10 metres at a slower pace, the play-the-ball was a second or two slower and you could hold down just a little bit longer.
The Roosters, therefore, could back their defence more because it simply wasn’t as taxing.
But they looked gassed in round one by around the 60th minute, and their forwards had been dominated for all but two games prior to their win last week against the Sharks.
All that defence, all that retreating and the speed of the game was taking its toll on the players, and they’d slumped to their first three-game losing streak in the Robbo era.
They couldn’t simply back their defence anymore, because there was just too much of it, and it was too intense. So Robbo changed it up.
Have you noticed in the past two weeks the grubbers and short kicks that the Roosters are taking? The Roosters now cannot rely on scoring off just the one set, and they know it. So they are setting out to get the repeat set, which they rarely did last year because their defence could be trusted to knock everyone back.
Mitchell Pearce scored two repeat sets yesterday and nearly scored himself with a grubber-chase; Maloney ran the ball hard near the line rather than throwing the cutout miracle pass and was held up twice; and Jakey has dusted off the boots too and found the rewards in the second half.
The Roosters made 42 more runs and 448 more metres despite dropping the ball one more time than the Dragons and conceding an extra penalty. It was similar last week when the Roosters lost the penalty count 6-2 and dropped the ball three more times than the Sharks but won the running battle by 200 metres.
They are valuing the ball more than last year, and the last two weeks — including the squeaker over the Sharks — shows it. The attack this team has in them warrants the change in ethos as with the rule changes there’s only so much the defence can do.
Injuries — we have a few.
James Maloney was only just returning to his best form too, with Jenko the main recipient of the options Maloney was suddenly re-creating. And now they’ve picked up injuries.
Jenko rolled his ankle which for anyone else might not be an issue, but for a man who turns on a penny it could be worrying — although the NRL goes on strike this week with the rep season upon us. Maloney suffered an AC joint injury, which as we know with Boyd last year can be a hassle at best.
BC missed the first game against the Bunnies last year with an AC injury but managed to play on with the injury following that, but he’s a much better defender than Jimmy. The Roosters initially diagnosed Maloney with a Grade 2 AC injury, and according to Uptodate.com:
Type II injuries usually cause greater pain and swelling than type I injuries. Initial treatment may include rest, ice, pain medication, and three to seven days of shoulder immobilization in a sling. Range-of-motion exercises can be started when tolerable.
After a type II AC injury, most people are able to return to full activities when full range of motion and strength are regained, usually after 2 to 4 weeks. Complete healing generally requires several more weeks.
So expect Maloney to be ruled out for at least a month if the Grade 2 diagnosis is on the money. The Roosters have been unnaturally lucky in the past 18 months, using just 25 players last year. A repeat of that was never likely, and injuries will happen this year — but thankfully, we have depth at most positions.
The Roosters have Sonny Bill Williams, Samisoni Langi or Daniel Mortimer as the likely replacements for Maloney should he be ruled out.
But what about Jackson Hastings?
The Roosters play the Tigers in two weeks, against another young star (I will NEVER say “boom rookie”) in Luke Brooks. It may be an opportunity to blood the future of this club who did his chances no harm with a solid showing at the Nines and a blistering start for the NYC team this season at halfback.
Regardless, they have options aplenty. Thanks Peter O’Sullivan!