SYDNEY ROOSTERS 30 (Jennings 2, Tupou 2, Cordner, Pearce tries, Maloney 3 goals) bt WESTS TIGERS 6 (Lawrence try, Austin goal).
Crowd: 16,024 at Allianz Stadium.
[Note: I’m not writing anything more on the Blake Ferguson story until a contract is official. We’ve covered Ferguson here previously, but in short, he’s a Rooster next year according to several people “in the know”. Once something official comes down the pipe, even if that means the NRL registers his contract for the rest of this season, we’ll talk about it then.]
There’s nothing worse than a bye to halt momentum, especially to a team in desperate need of some heading into a stop-start Origin period. As a result, there was more rust in the Roosters’ game than on the trombone in a German scheisse flick as they stumbled their way to a 24-point win against a team missing almost all of its spine.
The stats are pretty amazing. If you told me the Roosters would make 14 errors and miss as many tackles (24) as the Tigers I’d have predicted a much closer game than it was before proceeding to put my head in the oven.
But there is just so much damn class in this squad across the board that even if they bomb two or three tries (as they did in this one) they still have enough fire-power to be able to score five more, easily, and from anywhere on the park. And some of the tries were breathtaking.
They are still nowhere near where they need to be. It’s the same message that has emanated from all but perhaps two wins this year (Eels and Dragons) and with the horrible bye schedule coming up, they may lose a few more games heading into the home stretch.
But there were some promising — no, awesome — signs in this one.
Sonny Bill Williams was offloading white goods like little Hurrell out there, and although some passes didn’t stick it was the effort and ease in which some of them came that was pleasing to the eyes. There’s probably another Hurrell euphemism in there somewhere.
Meanwhile, James Maloney has almost returned to his best form despite having to be needled up and thus restricting much of his game.
But man, can this team bomb a try or waste a line break. They’re the best in the league at letting chances slip away. Seriously, it’s official. I did the maths and everything — below, of course.
Man of the Match.
It’s a tie! First up, Sonny Bill was doing a little bit of everything in this match, and despite the four errors he was an absolute stand-out with his most dynamic game of the year.
He had 19 hit-ups for 149 metres and a line break running primarily at Luke Brooks. He had four offloads and his passing game was largely on song, setting up a near break with a perfectly weighted lob pass over the top to Shaun Kenny-Dowall.
He was hitting holes and would have set up a try if not for the butterfingers of his halfback, and his defence was again superb (23 tackles, no misses). Not bad for a guy who was gargling salt all week.
But just as good, in this fan’s opinion, was Jake Friend.
In 53 minutes Jake ran it eight times for 71 metres, including one in which he supported the SBW offload, made 15 metres, then offloaded to start the movement out left which led to the game’s first try. He’s back to his best and perfectly followed up his Ferris-Collier medal-winning performance.
But he only played 53 minutes. Why?
Concussion probably didnt help, but it could also be because Trent Robinson has figured out yet another way to use Mitchell Aubusson.
Aubo — a hooker?
In the past two games Aubusson has played off the bench his minutes have been extremely limited, as Robbo endeavoured to figure out the best way to maintain as much size as possible on the bench while using all four players somehow — even though Boyd Cordner and SBW are 80 minute players.
The minutes squeeze left Aidan Guerra, Frank-Paul Nuuasala and Aubo to battle it out for minutes at lock, which left Aubo as the odd man out and playing 24 minutes against the Dragons and just eight two weeks earlier against the Eels.
But I didn’t see the conundrum being remedied by chucking him in at hooker, and he played well enough that Daniel Mortimer will really struggle to get his spot on the bench back unless injuries start to bite.
In 27 minutes in the role, Aubo ran it well and his service was surprisingly exquisite for a player seen largely as a hole runner and nothing else (not by Roosters fans — we know what the kid can do). But his defence, as always, stood out — and he offers something in that role which is completely different to anything Friend can offer.
Friend’s size and resulting low-tackling technique opens him up for ineffective tackles i.e. tackles that allow an offload. That’s something he can’t fix unless he can grow five inches, and he does a heckuva job with what he has. But it’s a real thing.
He “leads” the Roosters in ineffective tackles with 23, and he allows an offload for every 17.5 tackles he makes. You know who is the most “effective” tackler?
Mitchell Aubusson. He’s allowed just two offloads this year and makes an amazing 97 tackles for every ineffective tackle.
This is not to say that Friend should come off more often, far from it: he’s among the best hookers in the game and he was the co-man of the match, for Pete’s sake. But they have finally figured out how NOT to waste an interchange spot, and Aubo can provide something other than simply token minutes to rest Sonny Bill and the like.
Shades of 2013, but chances are going begging.
The Roosters head to North Queensland with plenty to work on. You can’t drop the pill 14 times and miss as many tackles as your opponents and hope to win every game.
The coaching staff should throw the DVD of this game into the microwave and set it to cook so they can at least enjoy the light show that ensues, because apart from five tries it was largely a game that no-one will confuse for a classic.
But four of their five tries were as good as anything the Roosters mustered last year, and although it was against a very weak opponent there was some play that any team would struggle to contain. The offload from SBW to Maloney for Jenko’s first try was almost a carbon copy of the effort in the Grand Final, and the cutout from Maloney to Tupou which led to Cordner’s try was first class:
And when the Roosters can get the arm free for the offload, they are very hard to stop. There isn’t a team in the NRL that can go left-to-right better than the Roosters. They did it last week and they did it again for the first try in this match, and their really isn’t much a team can do against it when the Roosters are drawing players and picking the right options, especially when each and every option is capable of blowing the line apart.
But not capitalising on chances just won’t cut it against the improving Cowboys or a week later against the Bulldogs, and they certainly can’t happen as regularly as they do for the Roosters if they hope to repeat as premiers.
Of the top five try-scoring squads (accurate as of Sunday morning, per NRL.com) the Roosters have the lowest percentage of converting line breaks into tries:
The Roosters lead the NRL in line breaks, by a comfortable margin too. Clearly, they can open up a game with that strike power, and as the season goes on you’d expect that conversion rate to improve.
But heading into a tough stretch, it needs to be near 100 per cent if the Roosters are going to come out on the other side with confidence and placed well enough to make a late push for the premiership.