SYDNEY ROOSTERS 32 (Minichiello 2, Williams 2, Kenny-Dowall, Macdonald tries; Maloney 4 goals) bt CANTERBURY-BANKSTOWN BULLDOGS 12 (Brown 2 tries, Inu 2 goals).
Crowd: 19,088 at ANZ Stadium.
The Bulldogs have had the best forward pack this season, any way you slice it. The club makes the most metres, most runs, and are in the top four in offloads, they don’t drop the ball, and they don’t miss tackles.
So when the Bulldogs had 51 per cent of the ball and made four more runs than the Roosters, you’d think the competition leaders would have rolled all over the top of a team outside of the eight heading into this game — especially when you throw in a 12-6 penalty count and the fact the Roosters dropped the ball six more times.
Instead, the forward pack of the reigning premiers — down two thirds of its back row and sporting a débutante and two three-game youngsters off the bench — stood up and rolled over the top in perhaps their best performance all season. They won the metres battle by 162 metres despite having fewer chances, and they fought back with a (largely) controlled aggression that they haven’t showed for the majority of the season.
This was a game that was far closer than the score would suggest, but it was also a game that never really looked in doubt — the Bulldogs just didn’t have the points in them to compete. But had the Roosters repeated their effort from round five, when the backs did the majority of the running, they could have been in some trouble.
And that aggression? Fuck they needed it, given the muppetry they faced on a per-hitup basis from their opponents.
Sam Kasiano was at his niggling, giggling best (except for at the end of the game), while David Klemmer — the man famous for viciously neck-butting Billy Slater’s flying foot last year — channelled some inner Basil Fawlty with the most bizarre running style seen this side of Oscar Pistorius:
The Roosters shot themselves in the foot with some of their errors — six extra drops and RTS’ air-swing are but two of the bullets — and the refereeing was again poor.
But as they did last year, the Roosters defended their line and won in spite of themselves, because the forward pack was resolute. Towards the end of the first half the Roosters withstood something like seven consecutive penalties to hold firm and concede just a penalty goal.
That is the Roosters from last year, a team that feeds on its own mistakes and makes up for them in defence. And while they almost lost their cool — SBW’s head-gear grab on Ennis and Friend tapping the ball away from Kasiano are two examples — they didn’t leak.
Oh, and Ennis? More on him later.
Man of the Match
It’s not a debate: Sonny Bill Williams was head and shoulders above anyone else on the field and racked up another brace of tries against his old club.
Throw in 131 metres, five offloads, SEVEN tackle busts and a try assist with 23 tackles, and everyone who had him as captain in Fantasy/Supercoach is one happy mofo.
He was simply unstoppable. Only Sonny Bill Williams, after all, can score tries like this:
When he is in this type of mood — selective offloads, omnipotence and targeted running — he is unstoppable. And if the Roosters are any chance of defending their title this year, it will come down to him.
He almost crossed the line when he inexplicably wrenched Ennis’ headgear down to draw a penalty, but he recovered in fine style to channel his energy into a dominant display.
He needed a big game like this. Heading into the game he hadn’t scored a try or set one up, and he’d broken the line just once. He was down in offloads and had — from the outside looking in, admittedly — lost the confidence in his game and didn’t look to be having any fun in what will likely be his last season of rugby league.
But that face he pulled after his second try, above, showed he still loves the game. We need a happy-yet-aggressive SBW this year, and this game will have given him the impetus for the rest of the year.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was also impressive. He played almost all of the first half and finished with perhaps his best running game of the year: 14 hit-ups and 143 metres with 27 tackles and an exceptional battle with the guy sporting the bizarre Brazilian Capoeira running style.
He also came off for a concussion test after his head hit the turf in the second half, but came back to resume the battle and take the cookies.
Ahhh… so THAT is what “someone coming off with a concussion” looks like…
No-one wants to admit they’re a diver, for good reason
Michael Ennis copped a high shot from Sam Moa with around 40 seconds left in the first half. It was high, no question, and deserving of a penalty.
But Ennis then stayed down and didn’t move for at least 30 seconds, if not longer.
Now, I’m no doctor. But if you are down, motionless, from a head shot, for an extended period, you are likely concussed. You have to come off for medical assessment — there’s no grey area here, no on-field assessment that can change that. If you stay on, the club’s doctors are flouting the concussion rules. You can’t just shake it off like a cobweb.
Either that, or you took a dive to get a penalty.
Ennis appeared on the Sunday Footy Show and defended his staying down, though, claiming he had a “stinger” in his neck and didn’t want to move as a precaution.
Case closed, right?
According to someone with intimate knowledge of the rules, a player must come on for a doctor to differentiate between a concussion and a “stinger”.
The Bulldogs, therefore, will likely be investigated for the failure to bring off Ennis, even in the event that he’d just suffered an alleged “stinger”.
Or they can admit diving. It’s either/or at this stage.
There is not a current rule against diving, but it’s becoming clear that some clubs — not all, but a select few — would rather take the fine than admit one of their players took a dive.
Why? Because, as you already know, taking a dive goes against the very idea of sportsmanship. It’s exploiting loopholes in the rules to make up for a lack of talent that would otherwise negate the need to exploit them.
Admitting to diving is to admit an evident lack of integrity. It remains baffling why teams would want to win this way. Is that a victory you or your fans would really be proud of? Taking a dive at a critical juncture in order to bend the rules in your favour?
Twitter fiend and rules aficionado Johnny Tobin (@JohnnyTobin) brought up a law that should be implemented: if you stay down from a high shot, you come off to take the concussion test immediately — the idea here is that it would prevent players taking a dive through acting concussed, and also act as a black-and-white rule that would prevent club doctors from keeping a concussed player on the field.
That may fix the instances of the perception of diving caused by acting shaken up, but players will find a way to complain about another “injury” caused by a high shot.
But down the line, what if a player just grabs his shoulder, or even his knee? Just staying down — no matter the visible symptom — gives the broadcaster the opportunity to show a replay to see “where the injury occurred” and if in that footage to look for a non-existent knee injury they see a head-high tackle, the video referee will call for a penalty.
My take, for what it’s worth? Just remove the video review on instances of foul play. We already have two referees and two touch judges on the field, with two video referees watching the game live. If they collectively can’t see the hit live, then it wasn’t as bad in full speed as it looks in slow motion.
It’s either do that or hope that teams show a bit of respect for the game and stop looking for ways to exploit the rules like they do with obstruction (defender runs into the decoy) and the video review — an initiative that was actually brought in to protect players.
I don’t hold out much hope for a sudden avalanche of sportsmanship. Some players will always try and find a way to exploit the rules at the cost of the game’s integrity. Those players aren’t good enough to win through talent, so they resort to “gamesmanship” as opposed to sportsmanship.