SYDNEY ROOSTERS 29 (Tuivasa-Sheck 2, Kenny-Dowall, Friend, Liu tries; Maloney 4 goals; Maloney field goal) bt NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 12 (Smith, Mamo tries; Gidley 2 goals).
Crowd: 9,847 at Allianz Stadium.
[Correction: an earlier version of this article mentioned the Knights had lost six straight games. The number is actually seven.]
You know how you can get away with answering the tough questions about how your side still managed to lose by 17 points despite playing a team that dropped 11 balls and repeatedly gifted your team possession in your end of the field in the first half? Do you know how you can avoid discussing your team’s horrible season and capitulation after being up a try at half time against a team that seemingly didn’t want to be there?
You deflect and talk about something else. And Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is that something else.
You start by accusing him, flat out, of running with raised elbows. And don’t answer anything else. It’s a tactic used every year, nay, nearly every week, by Knights coach and Dikembe-esque deflector, Wayne Bennett. If it’s not him talking about changes that need to be made to Origin, he’s acting grumpy and not answering questions at all.
We all remember copious column inches dedicated to his grumpy demeanour towards journalists, usually after big losses to unfancied opponents. It’s a common tactic, and probably a good one considering the state of his club at the moment — but that doesn’t make it any less see-through.
Had he commented after the dust had settled? It may have had more gravitas. And had there been comments about the nature of the loss, rather than only about a moment that literally took five seconds before it was over, then we’d take it more seriously.
Kurt Gidley joined in on the act too, discussing Jared’s elbows rather than his inexplicable turn as a ball-hog early in the game when he was caught on the last tackle.
While we’re on the discussion though, Kurt, care to explain this?
Do they have a point? Probably. JWH does run with an arm-bar of sorts, and Chris McQueen and Danny Buderus have felt the other end of it when the tackle has gone wrong (although Buderus was tackling lower, and McQueen copped the brunt of an instinctual fend, but let’s not get into that debate for the sake of us remaining focused on a minor incident).
But surely, in a game in which the Knights stumbled badly against an opponent that was absolutely, unequivocally nowhere near its best, there should have been some discussion about the game?
No? OK then.
Then surely there could be some discussion about the Knights’ seven-game losing streak and the very real possibility that they end up with a wooden spoon, the first in Bennett’s career?
Instead, we are focussed on an incident that the video referee and on-field refs must have declared an accident; either that, or they saw nothing in it — and in the grand scheme of it, I lean towards the latter.
But damn you, Bennett! Your deflection, again, worked a fucking treat — even I’M talking about it now. You crafty old bugger.
The art of deflection; it’s certainly helped me NOT discuss the game at hand. But let’s be honest here: was there much to talk about?
Man of the Match — well, there’s actually two
Brian SmithTweeted during the late-season game against the Sharks last year , in which we were down 26-0, that (to paraphrase) “this is a game in which Mitchell Pearce needs to show he can be a leader and lead his team to a win”.
Jonathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Daly Cherry-Evans: even the best halfbacks would be hard-pressed to snatch a win from a 26-0 deficit. But hopefully Smitty was watching the game on Saturday, because it can be argued Pearce took on the challenge to lead his team back more than he ever has.
After a quiet first half, Mitch led the team around beautifully and had a hand in most of the positive things the Roosters did in then second 40, when they scored 23 unanswered points to win a game many expected they could simply mail in to get the two points.
With the game tied at 12 all, Pearce put in a perfectly placed kick aimed towards the space directly between the middle of the sideline and the right upright, setting the lanky SKD up for the try. He then took the line on in another play, before offloading and enabling Friend to step through some frazzled defence for another try five minutes later.
He also defended stoutly and found space easily kicking the ball out of danger. He was composed, and that composure led the club to a win that many expected would be much larger than it was.
But Pearcey doesn’t get there without the superb platform laid by Sam Moa, who had perhaps his best game since the Grand Final.
Seriously, 22 hitups for 176 metres is incredible, and the Roosters needed every one of those metres. In the second half, he and JWH were back to their destructive best with 25 runs between them, laying the platform for Pearce and James Maloney to get the Roosters back into the books.
Speaking of Maloney, he wasn’t too far behind. He had a hand in the first try and the last two, and kicked the rarest of Roosters plays: a field goal. It was the Roosters first since Round 25, 2011; quite a record when you consider the Roosters have since won a premiership without a single one.
The future — is there space for it in the present?
I loved everything I saw from Willis Meehan in attack, in his debut match at the grand age of just 18. He did everything to suggest that a first grade spot is his to lose from 2015 onwards. But was it enough to ensure a spot for the rest of the year?
He made huge impact with each run, especially his first in which it took three forwards to bring him down. He had nine runs for 69 metres and busted a tackle, and showed absolutely no fear whenever he touched the pill.
Defensively, though, he has a bit to learn.
Aki Uate went straight past him in the first half; that in itself isn’t horrible, as Uate has done that to more experienced players pretty regularly. But it drives home the reason why Kane Evans doesn’t get a regular run and why Willis probably won’t either, until their defence clears up.
Evans is tall, tough and excellent in attack, but got caught shirt grabbing in several instances this year, including one attempt on Daly Cherry-Evans which allowed the Sea Eagles a line break up the middle. Meehan, the same; they just don’t have that experience yet to read the defence and understand how to react to first-grade talent attacking the line.
The Roosters don’t allow breaks up the middle; it’s what won them a premiership last year, and to beat them teams had to go to the fringes and hope for the best. For the Roosters to have another shot at the gong this year, they need to revert to that. They have a relatively short premiership window with the loss of Sonny Bill Williams after this season, so they need to milk it.
Therefore, the future can wait another year, especially when that future only just turned old enough to drink. But faaaaark, that future is bright.
I don’t know about you, but watching the Roosters do just enough to get by is like being stuck behind an ‘ 86 Ford Laser in an overtaking lane, and it’s doing just enough to technically be going faster than the other cars but not enough to make me less frustrated that I’m not overtaking them as well.
You want the Laser to go faster so badly that you actually get angry and likely to honk. But then you realise: this is an ’86 Laser, and perhaps this is just how fast it’s meant to go.
Are the Roosters an ’86 Laser? Is this team’s destiny to simply do just enough to overtake lesser drivers before going back to the slow lane to allow the Maseratis of the competition to get in front? Or is this club the Maserati?
If it’s the former, then they’re actually performing well. They’re missing just the one cog in Boyd Cordner, an important cog but again, just the one in a league in which every club has a cog or three out. Sure, we’re also missing the Origin triumvirate, but the Knights were missing just one fewer player when they outplayed the Chooks in the first half. If the Roosters are the Laser in this convoluted analogy, then their second half was them putting the foot fully down to score 23 unanswered points, and their spot in the top four is probably better than should be expected.
But let’s be honest: this Roosters club is a Maserati. Everyone in the starting side, when fully fit, has either played at a representative level or been selected as the next in line (Jake Friend). We saw them make 11 breaks last week, and six this week.
They’re just driving it slow, like they’re uninsured and afraid of crashing. They are getting from A to B comfortably, but never opening the engine up fully to test the limits. We saw them do that last year, several times in fact by this time. So maybe they’re done testing the limits, or they’re burned out by it.
But I can’t help feeling there’s something more in the tank.
Game and Player Stats
(Click to enlarge, or flip your smartphone on its side)