North Queensland Cowboys 40 (Linnett, Winterstein, Coote, Bolton, Morgan, Taumalolo, Feldt tries; J Thurston 6 goals) bt Sydney Roosters 0 at 1300 Smiles Stadium.
Let’s be honest for a change: we all deep down knew the Roosters never really had a shot here. The reality was that they never had the chance to really learn from their mistakes from just five days earlier with two of those days involving travel. But scheduling aside, they were bound to lose to a team smarting from a loss to the Eels.
And sure enough, following the Coote try to end the first half it was as good as over. In fact, that’s when I started writing this review. Their heads dropped, the body language was off and they never recovered. And when fatigue set in it was really over.
Rave fiends with Parkinsons can do a better job holding a pill than the Roosters did in the second half and the team as a whole dropped their bundle the moment their captain attempted a hero 40/20 to end the first half. They had just 40 per cent of possession for the game (per NRL.com) with a 61 per cent completion rate to 80 per cent from the Cows, who ran it for 1874 metres to the Roosters’ paltry 1174. That tells you almost everything you need to know. But not quite.
Their right edge, again, had more dangerous leaks than a fishnet condom at ovulation time and had no answer for the most basic of plays, such as an angled run or a decoy play. The Cows ran the same play twice and scored both times to open the game, and the defence looked as shocked on the second as it did on the first.
The Roosters didn’t have any answers for any play that involved speed or power, especially in the second half when fatigue set in and the defence was unable to hold up the likes of Scott Effing Bolton.
Ultimately, it was a loss that was always going to happen, but it didn’t have to be so freakin’ costly. The club lost Dale Copley — likely for the season — with a torn pectoral, and the forward depth may have suffered yet another blow with Sam Moa leaving in the first half with a leg injury and not returning. And say what you want about Ian Henderson, but we hope he’s OK after being taken off in a medicab with what’s been reported as a snapped leg.
That’s three lost on top of our well-known outages thus far. It’s like M*A*S*H* at Bondi, but without Alan Alda delivering punchlines to cheer the joint up.
It’s a transition year, and all we want is progress. But to be honest, given the quick turn-around and travel demands, this is a game we were never going to see much in the way of development aside from our youngsters knowing what a spanking from the defending premiers feels like.
The only way is up, I guess?
But before you consider the climb up the ladder, first consider these statistics: The Roosters conceded 300 points in 24 games last year; they’ve conceded more than a third of that total (101) with 87.5 per cent of the season remaining.
They’ve scored 30 points through three games; they averaged 24.6 points A GAME last year.
We aren’t the same team; not even close. And while the big three returning WILL make a difference, that won’t be until round 8 at the earliest.
We can talk about treading water until then all we want, but it’s hard to climb a ladder when the legs are tired and slippery from treading water for a third of the year.
Man of the Match.
For them, pick any one of their three guys whose initials are JT and you couldn’t go wrong.
For us? It’s a little harder. Throw away the second half and focus on when the Roosters actually had a shot, and it was Sio Siua Taukeiaho. Again.
Per NRL.com SST racked up 134 metres from 17 runs with 42 tackles and just one miss in a game in which the Roosters missed 34. He’s Taumalolo-lite and offered the Roosters their only real chance at a quick play-the-ball or momentum.
This guy has become our most indispensable forward, and to think he debuted for the Warriors on the wing.
Speaking of the wing, Shaun Kenny-Dowall was also superb, breaking the line twice and looking the most likely to do something — although it’s probably easy to look the most likely when no-one else does.
The kiwi backpacker had 132 metres off 10 runs with the two breaks, and five tackles without a miss. Sure, he was part of the right edge that leaked the first two tries early, but a lot of that can be attributed to his inside men (Jayden Nikorima and Blake Ferguson) dragging him in though bad reads.
Excusable inexperience burdens the experienced with no excuses.
If there was a game that perfectly epitomised the inexperience inherent in key positions in this team, it was this one. Latrell Mitchell at one point caught the ball and played hot potato to his next man standing right next to him, like something from the under 6s where you have to pass it twice before running. A set or two later he threw it forward. Nikorima dived for a ricochet off a Thurston kick on the fifth and gifted them team another set after he dropped it, after an attacking play when he got caught on the last and didn’t shape to kick. And Jackson Hastings barely did a thing.
But you cannot begrudge inexperienced players being inexperienced. This whole thing is a learning curve, and the only way to fight through inexperience is through outgrowing it.
But it’s leaving those who know better to work with a shorter margin of error, and unlike their younger team-mates they don’t have the leeway. Like when Daniel Tupou was dragged back in goal on a basic kick return in the first defensive set, before dropping it the next time he touched with from a sloppy hold in shitty weather. Or when Blake Ferguson got caught flat-footed on two identical decoy plays, dragging his winger in with him and opening up their wings for two tries.
Or when — after the club recovered from an early onslaught led by Matt Scott, James Tamou, Jason Taumalolo and Ethan Lowe who all just pummelled their defence for the first 20 — Jake Friend tried a 40/20 on an early tackle, kicking it out on the full with a minute left in the first half and gifting easy field position to turn a respectable 12-0 deficit into an 18-0 blowout.
And to be fair, most of the Roosters’ experienced players stood up from an effort standpoint and continued to put their heads down… but the margin for error with an inexperienced spine is so small that the most minute of blunders can cost the team dearly. And it did.
And to be even fairer, shit, at least Friend was trying SOMETHING to spark the attack with that 40/20. It was poorly executed, and we were probably going to lose anyway, so why not? I guess?
What’s becoming clearer is that the coaching staff has a lot of explaining to do. Because without an attacking structure, we’re forced to rely on a freak play such as a 40/20 coming off to have any real chance.
Our halves need basic plays to fall back on.
We can blame inexperience all we want, and it’s an understandable crutch to lean on. I prefer to blame the coaching.
Granted, this is not the halves pairing the coaching staff envisioned at the start of the year. But the club has had since Australia Day to work with Niko and Jacko to get even a modicum of structure together for them to fall back on.
Nothing is there in the form of set plays. Nothing. Not even a wrap-around, let alone something “complicated” such as an overs or unders line. All we get, consistently, is a pass left or right, maybe two, in the hope that the receiver can get on the outside of their man, or can break through with speed off a rare deep run. If they don’t, they rinse and repeat for four tackles and with luck the halves are in position to kick to the wings or put in a grubber for a possible repeat set to do the whole song and dance again.
Or they get caught with nowhere to go as Niko was on one occasion, or they aren’t in place and Mitch Frei has to kick it as he did in the second half.
If you see the Cowboys’ first two tries, they had runners in action the entire time, and that’s not a complicated play. It’s called, I believe, a decoy run. They had two of them, in fact. By comparison, the Roosters rely on a combination of a game of Pass The Parcel and Pin the Tail on the Donkey.
Sure, the halves may be a little too inexperienced to put on a complicated play. Or maybe they’re incapable of it (and there’s certainly no cohesion between them yet). But the Roosters haven’t had a complicated play run in two years. We’ve relied on individual brilliance to get us through, and all of the players capable of that are now injured, suspended or at other clubs.
The kids are talented but they need some guidance, something to fall back on when the shit’s going down. A wrap-around, a simple decoy run. Shit, even an inside ball every now and then would be nice.
If the coaching staff is taking baby steps on the gameplans to ease them in, then they’re doing their young halves no favours at all.