SYDNEY ROOSTERS 26 (Tupou 3, Maloney tries, Maloney 5 goals) bt CANBERRA RAIDERS 12 (Wighton, Vaughan tries, Croker 2 goals).
Crowd: 11,815 at Allianz Stadium.
Try and cast your mind back to the last time you gave a shit about a Raiders game. It was probably in 1994, right?
There is a good reason no-one turns up to these games and the Roosters are forced to give pennants away to entice people to come. There’s no rivalry that’s ever been built up despite the Roosters cleaning up the Raiders’ offcasts (Carney and now Ferguson). The games are dour at best, there’s barely a smattering of Raiders fans at Allianz, and since 1994 they’ve never really been anything more than a fringe playoff team that is always barely a threat to sneak into the top eight.
But more important, the Roosters always seemingly play down to their level or worse, leaving those in attendance with a taste of “meh” in their mouths.
The Roosters won this game 26-12, but it should have been far more than that after a first half in which they took a surgical scalpel to the Canberra right-side defence and looked every bit the defending premiers, especially in defending their own line.
They were clinical, precise, and relentless. They stuck to the game plan and exploited some weak winger work from Reece Robinson for two tries and the threat of it for another try. They refused to leak a single point, and the shutout — a first for the season after six last year — looked likely.
Then half time happened, the players forgot the game plan and eked their way to the expected 13+ scoreline thanks only to a useless penalty goal to end the game.
They probably took an opportunity to try some things in a real-world scenario, knowing full well they weren’t going to lose as long as their defence held up; at no point did it feel like the Roosters would relinquish a lead despite two late tries. So they went away from the left and started to attack on the right, and started dropping balls like an amputee fluffer on cradling duty through silly offloads and impatience.
But undoubtedly this is one of those games none of us will ever recall… and does that really matter?
Again, if you can recall a Raiders game from any point after 1994, then you’re probably a Raiders fan. There is an abject indifference to their games, and the atmosphere suffers because of it. And the Roosters have proven over the years that their energy level and focus fluctuates against a club in which there’s no rivalry and a minute risk of failure.
The Roosters played well enough to win, and took the two points. But really, no one takes anything away from a Raiders game except for a pennant.
Man of the Match
James Maloney’s early season malaise is a memory now, and he has seemingly recovered from that AC injury that looked to have been affecting his goal kicking; because against the Raiders he was back to his best.
He threw two pinpoint cut-outs to Daniel Tupou, and the threat of the cutout forced the defence to stretch, enabling the BBQ to go through for a try on his own:
He then came up with a pinpoint kick to assist on Tupou’s hat-trick.
Fantasy/Supercoach players who stuck with him through a shitty start to the year reaped the rewards of perhaps his best game of the year: three try assists, a try, five-for-five on goals and 22 tackles in a fantastic game from the shunned NSW five-eighth.
Not far behind though was the recipient of Maloney’s generosity.
Daniel Tupou returned from Origin with an extra pep in his step, and scored two great winger tries and another that only he and his vertical leap can muster. He didn’t seem fazed by the four errors he came up with on Wednesday, instead he diffused bombs like Jack Bauer and ran it back like The Juggernaut.
But more than that was his effort plays on what Sonny Bill calls “the one per centers”. Every loose ball, Toops dived on. He stayed in on another break that he made, and he didn’t come in off his wing in defence.
He’ll be selected for Origin II, without doubt, and has already shown he’s better, more confident, for the experience.
Where are we, really?
I’m serious when I say that there isn’t much to take from Raiders games. We were upset by them last year and almost lost again later in the season, and in both games the Roosters’ form on either side of those games wasn’t shown in either performance. We won the premiership last year, after all.
What you can say is that the Roosters have won five of their past six games and for the most part done what they needed to do. Only two of those games have really been standout performances, and it’s a stretch to call the 34-14 win against the Dragons and a 32-12 win against a Bulldogs team missing their halves as season-defining.
The Chooks haven’t totally clicked for any extended period save for the Parramatta game in round two. And while that may seem unforgivable for a team with so much talent, it’s actually scary for the rest of the NRL.
Quietly the Roosters have put themselves back in the top four. Quietly (at time of writing) the Roosters have somehow rocketed back to becoming the best attacking squad in the NRL — they’re first in line breaks and line break assists, equal first in points and third in tries.
I hate to go all NBA on yo ass, but this reminds me of the Houston Rockets defending their title in 1995. That team squeaked into the playoffs with the 11th-best record in the league, their attack improved but their defence fell off a cliff. Regardless, they got to the playoffs and rode the best player in the game, Hakeem Olajuwon, to a title.
They rode, more importantly, the experience drawn from a season earlier. They just knew how to win when it mattered, even if it was ugly.
The Roosters still have the best player in the game when he is on. They can attack from anywhere on the park. They have the defending premiers target on their back, which means by and large the Roosters get the best effort from their opponents. And they are scraping their way to wins at the moment.
For now, that’s fine. A win is a win, and two points against a boring Raiders squad is the same two points they get from a win against, say, the Melbourne Storm next week.
What matters is that they are winning the games they should now. It isn’t clicking for the full 80, but it doesn’t have to yet — even if it would be fantastic for us if it was.