Canberra Raiders 21 (Papalii, Soliola, J Croker tries; J Croker 2 goals; Williams field goal) bt Sydney Roosters 20 (Mitchell, Ferguson, Guerra, Nikorima tries; Mitchell 2 pen goals) at GIO Stadium.
People will undoubtedly look at this game and the statistics and be positively flummoxed at how the Roosters didn’t win this one.
They’ll look at the metres gained (1502 to 1208 from the Raiders) and know that the platform certainly wasn’t the issue. They’ll see the error counts (nine to 17 from the Raiders) and think the respect for the ball was there. They’ll look at the fact the Raiders’ star halves were out and be unable to figure out how their backups — one of which played less than half the game — managed to lead a team to four tries and an upset victory. They’ll see a 16-6 halftime lead and that the Raiders were down to 15 men after 38 minutes, and wonder how the hell the Raiders managed to actually lift in the second half.
And this is all true: that platform alone and the sheer amount of possession held in the Raiders’ 40 metre line should have led to more tries. Had we had a kicker capable of slotting a single conversion, just one, that would have helped too (It’s important to note here that Jackson Hastings is reportedly struggling with a quad strain and he’d be the designated kicker, not Latrell). They’ll also know the Roosters had two sets of six in the last five minutes to shape for the field goal and never looked once at doing so.
But it’s worth a deeper dive, especially into the second half figures. To wit: one bench player didn’t get a run and another managed just four minutes of game time. And guess what? The Roosters amazingly tired out in the second half. The Raiders put on 15 points, ran 102 extra metres (746 to 644) offloaded it at twice the rate the Roosters did (six to three) and predictably the Roosters struggled. When Papalii dived over for his first try in the first minute of the second half, you could see their club as a whole lift.
If the tactic was to use just a three-man bench rotation, then this game was lost in the first half when the meagre total of 16 points were scored. Copley dropped it over the line, they conceded to the defence twice with penalty kicks and in the first 10 minutes dropped it twice within their own 40.
But statistics that need to be remembered, especially in games decided by such a small margin, are largely biometric. Because 75 per cent of the Roosters’ spine is 20 years or younger, 50 per cent of them have just two games of experience, and all their experience together just crossed the 25 game mark.
This is a transition year, and these kids have another 22 games to sort out combinations that were never part of the club’s plans to run with this season. They spent all offseason training with Ferguson at fullback and dropped the experiment after one game, elevating the future in Latrell to the present. They also spent all offseason, up until Australia Day at least, training with Mitchell Pearce and Hastings as their halves.
There are going to be bumps and bruises along the way as the Roosters work three critical players back in (hopefully) six weeks and their spine takes time to calcify. Regardless, the loss on Saturday was incredibly disappointing — but the kids don’t have the first grade knowledge of how to win. Yet.
Man of the match.
It’s a split between two forwards: Dylan Napa and Siosiua Taukeiaho.
While Dylan may face some judicial drama this week for a head-high on the delightful Joey Leilua (the dude was falling but that rarely matters these days, especially for someone with priors on his rap sheet) he left it all out on the field to the tune of 18 hit-ups, 183 metres, 19 tackles and two tackle busts.
SST, meanwhile, was forced into 74 minutes of action, a career high so far, and made his typical cannonball impression on the regular for 16 hitups, 153 metres and 32 tackles without a miss. Remember, this dude debuted on the wing for the Warriors. What a signing he was by Peter O’Sullivan, who has proven over and over again he’s a recruitment savant.
The move of Latrell to fullback wasn’t a masterstroke. It was a game overdue.
From the jump he looked simply more comfortable out there in the fullback role than Ferguson showed in two games (including vs St Helens): he was probing and line-running from the back from the first set, his positional play was infinitely better than Ferguson’s and his IQ in the role was a welcome sight for a club missing that fullback nous in the first round.
He busted six tackles, was involved and had effect with each run (13 for 122 metres)… oh, and he did this:
He’s also a natural playmaker as shown when he took the the tap on the 20 metre restart, ran it to the line and threw a no-look pass to put Tupou away for a break.
With this simple shift, the backline finally makes sense. While SKD dominated from the centres last week he’s had some great performances from the wing in recent years and he’s a great exponent of dummy half runs out of his own end. And Ferguson was finally dangerous again. It’s going to take time for all of this to gel into something that leads to wins, but it will happen. Remember, Copley is new to the club as well and with this shift they’ve effectively thrown the offseason plan out the window. That drawing board got a workout this week, as it had to, and this is the best formation for the club.
It will just require patience, and experience.
The defence and a predictable break in the wall.
Throughout the game, whenever the Raiders had the ball, I leaned over to a mate and said on more than one occasion “watch this: they’re setting up an attack to aim at Nikorima”. It’s something we alluded to in the Match Preview, that the Raiders would target that edge with Josh Hodgson throwing short balls to their big boppas after Niko missed six tackles on debut, and true enough that’s exactly what they did. To wit, here’s Papalii’s second try:
The Roosters need to sort their shit out on that edge STAT because, until Pearce comes back, Nikorima is going to continue to be a target, and the Roosters’ coaching staff needs to align him with stronger defenders than they did against Canberra. Teams are going to keep aiming missiles his way, and he needs someone alongside him that is a stronger defender than SKD.
You’d almost consider shifting Aubusson to the right in defence (no misses on Saturday).
The flat attack on the line needs to go, for now.
It’s becoming clear that the flat attack is being coached at the club, and when we have Mitchell Pearce that tactic is OK: he’s a great exponent of the late pass just before hitting the line and throws them accurately.
But we have new halves for the first eight rounds, and the flat attack is not working. Hastings needs room to create and the flat line sees him acting as merely a distributor (just two runs for 25 metres on Saturday). The defence is up in the young halves’ faces quicker and is shutting down their options.
With any luck that emphasis shifts against the Cowboys this week, because these young halves — especially Nikorima — showed what they CAN do with a bit of depth and the time to assess the defensive line, as Niko showed with his blistering try here:
Yes, the defence gets a bit more set when within the 10, but a deeper attack forces the defence to move off that line and become more prone to misreads when forced to eventually back-pedal. Too often against the Raiders the flat attack enabled the defensive line to stay set, limiting the fifth tackle options largely to chip kicks to the spot between the centre and middle-edge.
That kicking wrinkle is a good shift, though, as the chasers are running at different angles and thus harder to block — and that tactic led to Copley’s near try in the first half. So that’s one aspect the coaches have figured out after defences effectively neutered Daniel Tupou’s major strength with blockers the past two years.
But aside from that, there isn’t much in the way of attacking plays the Roosters are running when camped in the attacking zone, as the last five minutes showed when the Roosters elected not to go for the drop-goal, instead going for a try they had no idea how to create.
A trip to the tropics amid our worst start since 2007.
The Roosters have not lost two games to start a season since 2007, when Chris Anderson coached the club and started a one-marker revolution that lasted all of one game. That year we lost five games to kick it all off, and this year, sadly, could challenge that nadir.
We have the Cowboys this week in the balls-sticking-to-the-leg humidity of Townsville just five days after the loss to the Raiders on Saturday — after they just got upset by the Parramatta Eels and will be keen to atone.
After that the Roosters return to play the Sea Eagles at home and the Warriors the week after in Gosford. All three teams have the attacking players to exploit the Roosters’ right-edge weakness (Gavin Cooper and Jason Taumalolo next week, Marty Taupau the week after and Ben Matulino in three weeks) and despite each clubs’ indifferent starts to the year are probably heading into each game as favourites.
Every fan is expecting a loss next week… and that’s fair enough. But there WAS progress this week. This is what we need to see this loss as: not just as a disappointment (although it was) but as a significant improvement on the week prior.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: this is a transition year, and the club has already made drastic changes to get the transition going. But it will take time, and a five-day turnaround against the defending premiers is simply too short to expect a miracle on Thursday. Regardless, I’ll be keeping an eye out for progress from this young spine rather than demanding a victory.
Stats (accrued from NRLstats.com)
Click to enlarge: