New Zealand Warriors 32 (Kata 2, Johnson 2 Vatuvei, Tuivasa-Sheck tries; Johnson 4 goals) bt Sydney Roosters 28 (Kenny-Dowall 2, Aubusson, Taukeiaho tries; Hastings 6 goals) at Central Coast Stadium.
We saw in the 81st minute one play that can accurately describe the difference between this year and last: our former superstar fullback fended off the player who has probably been our best to score a try and secure the win. The Warriors now have the one guy we could at least pin our hopes to when it came to winning games like this; now that he’s gone, we’re constantly chasing and coming up juuuuust short — and that includes for the club’s first win of the year.
Through some silly errors, poor chases and some woeful goal-line defence the Roosters squandered an early dose of considerable momentum. They scored the first eight points, then conceded the next 20. They then scored the next 18. Then they dropped it in goal (more on this later) and conceded the next two tries.
This one hurts. Maybe it doesn’t hurt as bad as losing to the Raiders and Manly when goal-kicking was fundamentally the difference, but this one was there. And it just HAD to be Dodge who dived over to win it, didn’t it? There was again improvement shown in this game. But there is something absent in the way the Roosters are defending and attacking.
Per the stats on NRL.com, the Warriors made more than 200 extra metres, more metres per run (8.38 to 8.08), more line breaks (seven to three), held 52 per cent of possession and scored six tries to four. Based on that, the Roosters should not have been in this game — ironically, it was goal-kicking that kept them in it. But when it came down to it, they just didn’t have it. They don’t have a go-to attacking move in the first 75 minutes let alone the last five, nor a play to set up a field goal. And they lack poise in the clutch.
Jacko recieved a couple of poor passes from Jake Friend near the end, sure, but on one play in particular he needed to get it back to the option kicker in Latrell Mitchell but instead ran it on the fifth and thus negated the team’s best chance at a field goal — under no circumstances should he be held with the ball on the fifth in a game like this.
But that’s on the team, not just a young half who only just racked up a season’s worth of first grade games. And it’s a team that, for all the improvement it has shown and the promise it has revealed in patches, just matched the 2007 squad for the worst start to a season since the winless Bizarro Juggernaut of 1966.
Man of the Match.
Already this year we’ve come to realise that two players alone have given us a chance to win: Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Shaun Kenny-Dowall, and the former this week was close to our best. But a few other players stood up and took control in a game that, really, we didn’t have a right to win. And we at 26 Rounds thought Mitchell Aubusson was outstanding in this one.
It wasn’t just the try that secured the 26 Rounds Man of the Match and accompanying $50 Tandy Electronics voucher for Aubusson… but what a try it was. It was old-school Aubusson, running the perfect line and ultimately choosing the right option to back himself against RTS who, as we all know, is actually not as quick as his footwork would suggest:
Yet it was his defence, more than the try, that stood out. In 73 minutes he had 29 tackles, with many of them driving tackles that put the Warriors on the back foot. His technique is superb and he went without a miss.
SST was again relentless — yes his poor attempt on the Hastings kick to Lolohea in golden point opened up a game winning run, but he was the first there and was let down horrendously by the pathetic chase the rest of his club put in… and he’d played the full 80 minutes prior to that one. So I’ll cut him some real slack there considering he put in 13 runs for 108 metres, 20 tackles and a try.
A speck of promise to possibly placate the pessimists and former greats.
Jayden Nikorima takes the ball and sprints off the mark into a gap; he’s wrapped up but gets the arm free to offload to Jake Friend. The captain fires a pass towards Hastings with numbers, but instead their young fullback pops up and grabs the pass before it gets to his half. He bumps off one player and commits two more before throwing a bullet offload to Hastings. The half could have been tempted to pass it out left but the defence was sliding that way and the passing lane was crowded — and a grubber towards his winger would have been too much of a risk. Instead, he drifts left, commits a few defenders and calls SST under him, who powers through three players to score perhaps the club’s best try of the year:
That’s a glimpse at what promise this young club has once it has time to acclimatise to the rigours of the NRL season, to the brutality of it. That can take years. But note that none of the players mentioned there are over the age of 26. In fact, three of them are 20 or younger. One is just 18 and playing a position that his opposite number had to wait three years to play full-time.
So when you get people claiming that Jackson Hastings “needs to be dropped” or “he’s not up to first grade standard”… spare me. He’s 20. TWENTY. He’s barely played more games in first grade than he’s had years alive.
It’s even worse when you get former club legends such as Bill Mullins coming out during the week and writing off a teenager before he’s even shed the puppy fat. Here’s what the former Roosters winger said of Latrell Mitchell on the Rugby League Week website this week:
“His defence is disgraceful and his positional play is way off. A couple of times I saw him in the Cowboys game taking a look at himself on the big screen – I think he was more worried about how his hairdo looked than anything else”
He’s played four first grade games, is playing full-grown men and is barely 18. His defence does need work — a lot of it — and his positional play is erratic. But you know whose defence also needs work? RTS, and he’s been playing the position for a full year and was on the wing for the two years prior to that. He grew into the role. In 2014 his play at the back was equally confused, and even now his defensive technique is lacklustre at best as the Aubusson try above shows.
But by all means, Bill: write the kid off. Let’s drop him. Or maybe get in there and provide some advice for a kid on the steepest of learning curves. Your choice.
When there is no margin for error, it’s the little things that cripple.
This is a team with a young spine which could really benefit from some sustained momentum. Momentum breeds confidence, lowers their defensive workload and reduces the pressure. And the Roosters crippled momentum at least twice with some poor decision making.
The first, you’ll remember, is the penalty goal to take the Roosters from a six-point lead to an eight-point lead after 13 minutes. Now, the penalty goal obviously has merit, like taking a four point lead to six or a tied score to a two-point advantage — or in the last five minutes, taking six to eight becomes mandatory when gifted the opportunity. But more often than not, it’s a really small reward for surrendering six tackles in exceptional field position to be awarded a kick-off and more opportunity for error down the other end of the field. Sure enough, the Roosters kicked it, dropped it in the ensuing set and conceded the next 20 points. That window of six tackles in attacking position didn’t open up again until the 39th minute.
Then the Roosters scored back-to-back tries in the second half to take a six-point lead. They were on fire after scoring their two best tries of the year and momentum was well and truly back. So the safe option is to simply take the hit-up off the kick-off and get to your kick.
Instead, Dylan Napa decided that he’d try to exploit the foot-over-the-dead-ball rule without properly judging the kick. It was never within the realm of reality that the kick would make it as far as Napa needed it to, even if he were doing the splits. So instead, he dropped the ball in goal — and his foot wasn’t even on the line when he attempted it anyway.
The Warriors scored off the next set.
You can explain away all the errors the Roosters’ neophytes have made this year, and you can understand the occasional knock-on — shit happens and so does the occasional drop. But calling for a penalty goal in great field position and hoping for a miracle instead of taking a standard run shortens the competition’s shortest margin for error considerably.
Where to next? Perhaps a dark place in history, but there’s light if you care to look for it.
Souths await, and more than any club they’ll be keen to drive a salt-covered nail into the wounds of the Roosters, who face the prospect of standing alone in club annals with the worst start in 50 years should they lose at ANZ stadium on Friday night.
Awesomely, this will be the Roosters’ second five-day turnaround this season already and they’re up against it. If they lose, they’re 0-6, their worst start since going 0-18 in 1966 — and it’s already the equal worst start with the 2007 squad.
The right-side defence right now is perhaps the worst in the NRL. Actually, not perhaps. It is. Without doubt. Watch Ferguson rush RTS here who barely needed to step to avoid him, thus drawing his winger in again for the gazillionth time in response and leaving the left-side winger wide open for another piss-weak try down that edge:
Their attack looks lost on many occasions and their fifth tackle options remain poor for the most part. They concede too many metres up the middle and their goal-line defence has never looked easier to crack.
Jake Friend is playing injured, and he is trying his arse off, especially in defence. But he’s the one player who can take the pressure off the halves and he hasn’t been able to at all this year.
Aidan Guerra looks less like the guy who shredded the Knights for four line breaks, 12 tackle busts and two tries in the GF qualifier in 2013 and more like the guy who never got a start at Melbourne.
But despite all of that… there’s hope at least. The Roosters could easily have won three of these games. Against the Raiders, Manly and now the Warriors, we’ve lost by a combined seven points. Unlike the nadir that 2007 represented, there is improvement in each game. There’s still three vital cogs to return, and still so much improvement left in the entirety of the spine.
Friend needs to get healthy. Latrell needs bulk. Jacko needs experience and time. And the Roosters need Pearce more than ever. But all of this will happen. Is it all going to happen this year? Probably not. In fact, it won’t.
But the Roosters have money to spend and an enviable roster of young talent to nurture. This isn’t 2007 or 1966. This is all a transition to a new era that could be sustained for longer than our last dominant era that ended in the Grand Final qualifier just last year.
It’s not a matter of if, but when.
Stats (accrued from NRLstats.com)
Click to enlarge: