SYDNEY ROOSTERS 32 (Minichiello 2, Williams, Pearce, Tuivasa-Sheck, Casty tries; Maloney 4 goals) bt MELBOURNE STORM 12 (Fonua, Mann tries; Smith 2 goals).
Crowd: 16,757 at AAMI Park.
The Roosters had the far superior squad that enjoyed the overwhelming majority of possession. They had the best players across the park, and didn’t have the matador defence of Kurt Mann and the kicking game of Ben Hampton, who you wouldn’t trust finding a poop flake on a junkie’s arsehole let alone to put in a soft enough kick to force a repeat set.
They had 10 line breaks, six more offloads and more than 400 extra running metres than their opponents who were missing two of their big three.
They played some of the most exciting football they’ve played all year. They made line breaks in every part of the field, and they had four players who could throw the cutout on a whim. They even had the most out-of-character-in-a-good-way play of the game when a grubber in their own half just prior to half-time bounced just an inch too low for a fullback that can no longer bend over.
There were combinations all over the park, and some of the most fluid attacking football the game is capable of. This game should have been 22-0 at the half, if not more, and a scoreline in the 40s seemed likely.
But errors stopped that seeming eventuality from manifesting, as did complacency somewhat. They scored six tries but it should so easily have been much more as they opened up a formerly proud defensive line at will before mistakes at the end of each movement cost them.
Mitchell Pearce was into space but didn’t back himself, instead zagging when he should have zigged. Shaun Kenny-Dowall should have scored after some of the most enterprising and exhilarating play down the short side seen this year, but put the ball down half a foot too soon. Anthony Minichiello dropped that kick through before half time and a bomb over the line towards the end. They had an overlap on one occasion in which RTS couldn’t get the ball left, and another overlap in which Mini threw a short ball that was intercepted.
Covert those line breaks and overlaps into scoring plays, and you have at least 10 tries as opposed to the six they mustered. Instead, the Chooks settle for a win in which they were never really threatened. They can take a lot out of this game, more than they could out of last week’s effort in the second half versus the Raiders. Some of their attack was incendiary, and could have been legendary but for some late self-immolation.
You get the feeling after this game, and the past three really, that the Roosters are only playing at second gear, content to allow their form to build gradually before unleashing the Nos in the second half of the season.
If they can continue to win convincingly while playing nowhere near their best, most cohesive footy, then so much the better. You’d rather they hit the type of form we know they are capable of when it matters: finals time.
Man of the Match
No-one dominated proceedings more than Sonny Bill Williams in an effort that far surpassed his corresponding performance last year.
In 2013 he was taken out of the game through rushing defence and a lack of execution; he had perhaps his worst outing as a Rooster — an outing which included a butterfinger pass that went straight to ground and a further two errors.
But in this game his performance looked effortless, and that look of effortlessness is something you only see in the greats.
He threw the cutout to SKD for the first try, and sent his centre down the sideline for another break. He threw another cutout to RTS in the second half for yet another break, and topped it all when he scored a breathtakingly easy try running a hole off James Maloney in the second half.
He continually ran at half gaps all game in another 80 minute performance, and his offloading was selective and at its most dangerous. All three of his offloads led to an extra 10 metres gained through second phase play, and when he didn’t offload he made serious metres up the guts.
He’s been a bit hit and miss this year, but when he is in this mood the game seems too easy. The flick pass he threw to SKD was outstanding, and his passing game is unlike any other second rower’s in the competition.
But not far behind him were two of the targets of his brilliance.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has been down on form a little bit of late; since his majestic step on Ethan “ghost hunter” Lowe two weeks ago:
… he’s been a little shackled by the opposition.
Then this happened:
You’re right: that absolutely deserves a close-up to show RTS leaving yet another sucker grasping comically at sweet fuck-all:
He’s the one player in the competition that you simply cannot give the sideline to. You have to shut that lane down and make him come back in, because he will burn the living fuck out of you and leave your ego as empty as the air you just tackled.
But that’s not why he’s not far behind his Kiwi superstar teammate for MotM honours. He ran it 19 times for 153 metres with two line breaks, and his offload in the first half enabled the little fella in the number nine to set up the game’s second try.
Speaking of Jake Friend, he was simply superb with a huge line break in the second half, another near break later on and some superb support work on the back of SBW’s offloads. As mentioned, he backed up RTS’ offload in the first half, drifted and found Mitchell Pearce streaking towards the line.
With Daly Cherry-Evans possibly in doubt for Origin 2 and Cooper Cronk already out with a broken arm, there remains an outside chance that the Queenslanders shift Cameron Smith to the halves, leaving the hooker spot open for the pint-sized Rooster. With Jake in this kind of form, the risk of weakening a strength through necessity is negated somewhat.
Oh, and he made 43 tackles without a miss. But high tackle counts are par for the course for the little general; it’s his attacking creativity that is setting him apart from most hookers in the competition.
Frank Paul’s dalliance with the edge
Frank-Paul was excellent in this one, and more than that: he’s giving the Roosters an enforcer that isn’t afraid to get into a fracas and clock mutherfuckers.
There are shades of Sam Thaiday in him (i.e. third man in) but the Roosters haven’t had that all year following the retirement of Luke O’Donnell. They’ve subsequently been monstered in four games this year (losing the metres battle by 400 metres or more) by aggressive forward play from the opposition.
They’ve needed a tough nut to take the brunt of the punishment from officials. All year they have been one niggling play away from exploding and letting it take away from their game as it did on several occasions last year — and you could see that developing in this one from the grub club south of the border.
The Storm, down on troops and skill, reverted to “tough guy” play to throw the Roosters off. Ryan Hinchcliffe put in an unnecessary shoulder charge, and pushed SBW away on another play, trying to shake him up.
But FPN essentially stopped that shit before it really began, preventing the rest of his teammates from over-reacting by taking it upon himself to be the fall guy.
It worked too, as SBW and JWH had two of their best performances all year. Begrudge him all you want for getting sin-binned, but that play put the punching cue in the rack and the fake tough-guy bullshit from the Melbourne club on the backburner.
I’ll never condone someone diving and attacking a player prone on the ground. Ever. But I’ll be a monkey’s arsehole if the Roosters haven’t needed someone who will stand up for a team-mate getting punched in the head.
It’s the second time in three games FPN has brought the ruckus, and they’ve needed it every time. They’ll likely need it again, and FPN has put his hand up to be the guy — and he knows, better him than SBW or JWH.
The slow climb back to the perch — but the dropsies are holding this team back.
They are just a win out of first. They have the best for-and-against, the most points and the fifth-best defence (albeit with two byes to come).
But again, they are dropping too much ball to be considered anywhere near the team that destroyed oppositions last year.
Their strike rate in terms of converting line breaks to tries is startling: they lead the NRL with 77 line breaks but have scored just 53 tries, because they’re also in the top four for errors.
Mini scored two tries but it should have been a hat-trick at least, if not four; instead, he had five errors. SKD should have crossed the line at least once; instead, he had two drops.
This is not to denigrate either player, and SKD in particular was enormous carting the ball out and also in setting up the French Dude for his maiden try. But if the Roosters close off those chances we are looking at a team and saying they’re back, rather than wondering if they will ever get there.
However, the good news is that this team scored six tries against a top four squad from last year, and there is still debate about how fucking good they can be.
Game and Player Stats
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