Sydney Roosters 17 (Tupou, Guerra, Napa tries; Hastings 2 goals, field goal) bt South Sydney Rabbitohs 10 (Gray, Walker tries; Goodwin goal) at ANZ Stadium.
Writing match previews for 26 Rounds this year has been an exercise in what Twitter’s resident #RealTalker, Ryan “My way or the” Heighway (@Heighway_), had affectionately dubbed as 26 Rounds “clutching at straws”. As you know, the previews start with an introduction where this writer tries to deride the opposition’s club, fans, city… whatever. But when the Roosters start 0-5, what chance does one have to obtain any leverage? It’s hard to Bantz when you’ve got no legs to stand on and not a single competition point for that matter.
We here at 26 Rounds fully expected that “clutching at straws” mantra to be maintained into next week. After all, what were the odds that a winless team missing its most experienced half and 33 per cent of its forward pack, playing just five days after a bruising encounter would beat a team that’s already racked up two 40-point performances this season and enjoyed more than a week of relaxation?
Given all that information, the Roosters weren’t given much chance in this one, but especially from these quarters where it was predicted the Roosters would fall to a comfortable sixth straight defeat. My bad.
Or maybe it was an elaborate reverse jinx, and you should all be thanking me?
After five straight losses and every one of us not knowing when the first win would come, to get it after a five-day turnaround against the sheer arrogance of Souths fans made the losses almost seem worth it. Well, not really… but unexpected, underdog victories against the Homebush Rabbitohs always seem just that little bit sweeter.
We walked five weeks in the desert, watched three mirages appear and suffered through two 40-point sandstorms before we finally found an oasis and a place to drink. We aren’t out of the desert yet, and our best chance for rescue in the form of three returning big guns still looks as if it’s three weeks away. But the sustenance derived from this win should last a while — and what a victory it was to savour.
It was a game in which everything was effectively equal. The Roosters ran it just two fewer times than the Bunnies (180 to 178), missed just three fewer tackles (32 to 35), possession was 50/50, tackle busts were almost one-for-one (Roosters had 35, Bunnies had 32), both squads kicked it 24 times and the Roosters made just two extra metres from those kicks. Even the errors were effectively equal — Souths had 10 errors to the Roosters’ nine, but the Roosters conceded two extra penalties.
But the game wasn’t nearly as close as those stats would suggest, and if it wasn’t for a Shaun Kenny-Dowall brain-fart near the end of the game this would have been considered a blowout. It wasn’t close because the Roosters did the little things better the entire game. Every run had purpose, and every tackle had grunt.
The Roosters simply pummelled the Vermin up the middle to the tune of more than 100 extra metres gained (1592 to 1463) off two fewer runs. They offloaded better and with purpose, and Jake Friend was back to his best, bursting off the mark on at least two occasions following offloads to effectively set up at least one try and immediately put the Roosters in attacking position.
It was the best he’d looked running the ball all year following an offseason in which he battled to overcome an achilles injury — one that he still has and which the club avoided surgery on… for now.
They overcame the injury to their best forward in the 26th minute, and overcame a game of blunders from their best back.
They defended better. They kicked into better spots. They supported offloads. Their backs across the park were as involved as their forwards, which lowered the back-end fatigue that the club had suffered from throughout their five losses. It was the little things, the effort plays and what Sonny-Bill Williams once described ad nauseum as “the one per centers”.
That effort will finally enable this writer to get back to his roots and rip the shit out of our next opponent’s area and fans without the embarrassing audacity of doing so from the view of a winless nadir. We’ve got that win, against a premiership contender to boot. As a whole — and especially here — we aren’t clutching at straws any longer. Which reminds me:
Man of the Match.
If you looked at this game and thought someone other than Dylan Napa should take home the 26 Rounds Man of the Match award and accompanying $50 RetraVision voucher, then you must have been horrendously baked — or you simply didn’t appreciate in the moment just how dominant a performance he put in. So allow us to take you for a trip down recent memory lane.
The stats that he compiled are impressive enough without any context whatsoever: a try, 144 metres off 19 runs, 46 tackles (five one-on-one), an offload and five tackle busts. That’s a stat-stuffing line.
Now let’s add the context. He played the full 80 minutes and made it a personal mission to target and destroy his opposite in Sam Burgess, a mission he more than accomplished as he repeatedly hammered Souths’ elder Burgii. A chap on Youtube named Tom Lu compiled the hits into one easily-digestible video montage which 26 Rounds turned into a shareable gif:
His running game actually got stronger as the game went on (10 runs, 68 metres in the first half, nine and 76 in the second), which is amazing when you consider he didn’t get a rest aside from half-time.
It was the most relentless performance from a front-rower this season. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves has had some impressive performances as a Rooster, but he never had a game like this, one in which he combined exceptional running and defence with the complete shutting down of his opposite.
The try he scored was hardly spectacular, and Hastings should take much of the credit for putting in a superb kick (a breakdown of Jackson’s rise is coming tomorrow). But the try typified the Big Ranga’s night –in the 46th minute, he had every right to be fatigued, but instead he never gave up on the chase and he dived on the loose ball to effectively seal the match.
The club has struggled this year because its best player has been a winger, and aside from SST and last week’s effort from Mitch Aubusson it hasn’t had a standout performance from anyone else. They haven’t had a leader take the club by the ears and drag them into the contest kicking and screaming.
They got that this week and then some, in the most dominant performance from a Rooster this year, and perhaps even since JWH went down in August last year. It was an insatiable, inspired effort from a kid who, if you needed reminding, is just 23 years old. The best is still ahead of him, and if he call pull off even 80 per cent of this performance on a consistent basis, the Roosters will have a top five prop by the end of the year.
First win included a huge loss.
The loss of Siosiua Taukeiaho in the 26th minute was a huge blow at the time, one which could be even bigger once word of the severity of the injury is released by the club this week.
Channel Nine reported it as a medial ligament injury — whether it is a strain, tear or rupture is still not known. A strain or tear could be a season-ending injury to the forward that had become an 80-minute player and was the most likely to ensure they made it past the advantage line.
Here’s hoping it’s just a strain… but Channel Nine showed footage of him in the dressing room, and he was being propped up by two trainers in trying to walk around, and he looked anguished. In short: it didn’t look good.
It’s a cruel blow for a club with three players already on the shelf for the year (Dale Copley, Ian Henderson and Ryan Matterson) and with three players out until at least round eight or nine.
Breaking Zoolander’s Affliction.
Derek Zoolander can’t turn left. It stifled his modelling career and led to the rise of Hansel who, had he known of Zoolander’s affliction, would have won the walk-off comfortably with a simple left turn rather than having to pull his undies off magically from under his pants.
Does that sound ridiculous to those who’ve never seen Zoolander? We here thought it was too… until we saw the Roosters display a marked inability to go left all season. This writer made the point in the preview of this game that the Roosters are not going left with anything resembling either consistency or quality. To wit, the preview read:
In the two games before he went down, Copley was averaging just 7.5 runs and 8.07 metres per run, and had none in the 16 minutes before he left the game against the Cowboys in round three. His replacement through two games, Brendan Elliott, is on average getting slightly more opportunity with 10.5 runs a game (although he had just eight runs last week) but is not getting great opportunity with enough space (just 6.24 metres a run, second-lowest at the club this year and in front of just Ian Henderson).
Given how easy it is for right-handed players to pass left, it’s bizarre that the Roosters weren’t making any effort to get the ball there and, when they were, weren’t doing it with crisp, clean deliveries.
But just as Zoolander saved the Prime Minister of Malaysia when he finally turned left, the Roosters took down the pure evil of South Sydney when they went left repeatedly, and with quality.
Thanks to Aidan Guerra’s surprisingly clean passing game, the Roosters were able to give Brendan Elliott some quality ball and the centre had perhaps his best game in grade with 10 runs, 94 metres and five tackle busts. Daniel Tupou sparked second phase play out that way with two offloads, and Latrell Mitchell was heavily involved on the fringe and once again came up with what could be his signature play: a right-hand fend, spin and left-hand offload within his own half. He pulled the exact same play out of his bag of tricks last week against the Warriors which helped set up a try:
If he can continue to provide that kind of impact out left, the Roosters are in good shape, especially once left-side specialists Mitchell Pearce and Boyd Cordner return in a few weeks.
Where to next?
The Roosters play a Panthers team that has already shown it doesn’t give up, evidenced by their last-minute win versus Parramatta last week. The Panthers are just a win ahead of the Roosters but are certainly better than their position on the ladder would suggest — they were all tied up with the defending premiers on Saturday until a late field goal and try left them with another loss.
And despite the win, Roosters fans shouldn’t simply think the cobwebs are gone and the drawbridge to the finals is suddenly open and ready for crossing. Hidden in the club’s first win was much that still needs improving. They missed 32 tackles, dropped it a little too much and still struggled to break the line regularly against the Bunnies despite a ton of decent field position.
However, it was still a great win which helped the club avoid its outright worst start in 50 years, and it came against its most hated of rivals on their own turf. We should be stoked, and should take the week to soak it in. They’re still last… but also amazingly just two wins outside the top eight. And this win after two straight weeks of heartache will give the youngsters a shitload of confidence for a change, and they’ll go into the next one knowing what the sweet taste of victory feels like, if only for a week.
It’s made all the better because Souths fans now have a week to wonder how they got beaten by a bunch of kids down on confidence, rest and personnel. That, more than anything, helped this writer sleep well this weekend.
Stats (accrued from NRLstats.com)
Click to enlarge: