Thursday night’s game at ANZ may have been the drabbest and dourest of the NRL season so far, with a solitary try and conversion from Latrell Mitchell marking the only points put down over the entire game. It wasn’t for want of trying, either, since the Roosters were clearly determined to make up for their shock loss to the Bunnies the week before, while the Dogs must have been just as keen to consolidate some momentum following their rousing victory over the Cowboys last Saturday evening.
Things started a bit worryingly for the Chooks, thanks to a dropped ball from Ryan Matterson at the back of a great run, but an error in the play-the-ball from Aaron Woods shortly after gave Mitchell the platform he needed to crash over on the first tackle, thanks in large part to an early ball from James Tedesco. Dancing through tackles from Will Hopoate and Kieran Foran, and slamming over backwards as Josh Jackson brought him to ground, this initially looked like the burst of energy Sydney City needed to run riot over the Dogs, especially once Mitchell added the extras.
As it turned out, however, these were the first and last points scored over the entire night, with both teams trying and failing to cross over during the remainder of the first stanza. Shortly before half time, Mitchell was sent to the bin for a professional foul thanks to some early contact on Foran just as he was preparing to receive the offload from Woods that might have sent him over the line, but the Dogs didn’t score during the next ten minutes, in a testament to the Chooks’ defensive resolve.
A brilliant banana kick from Cooper Cronk initially looked as if it might yield some points, and Joseph Manu did almost get to it, only for the Dogs to knock it into touch at just the right moment. With eight seconds to go until the half time siren, Blake Ferguson also made a play for the line, with just the kind of clutch move he normally gets down, only for some terrific defence from Jeremy Marshall-King – his first real defensive moment of the night – to channel Benji’s massive efforts the week before.
The second half wasn’t devoid of spectacular moments, most notably a right-foot clutch kick from Foran that threaded its way between Boyd Cordner and Luke Keary. Time and again, however, they failed to deliver points, a situation that meant both teams inevitably lost some momentum as the clock ticked down and their fifth-tackle options fizzled away, until it felt more like we were watching a training session than two teams desperate to build upon their results from the footy week before.
It was clear that whichever team scored next would have the competitive advantage, even if was the Dogs, since it was now so long since the opening try that the next four points effectively had the opportunity to reset the game. A tackle on Ferguson from Morris thirteen minutes out from the end suggested a renewed effort from Canterbury-Bankstown, since this was, once again, the kind of putdown Fergo nearly always manages, making Morris’ trysaving tackle all the more gutsy and well-timed.
Yet shortly after, Ferguson crashed over for his hat trick – or what passed for a hat trick in this unusual game – finally appearing to get to ground on his third attempt. Even as the Chooks were celebrating, however, the decision was sent upstairs, where Bunker footage revealed that Morris had actually completed the tackle under the high ball that had led to Ferguson getting the footy in the first place, meaning that the try was disallowed, and both teams were exactly back where they’d started.
In some ways, it was the appropriate conclusion to a game in which so many players had made it right over the line but failed to put down points, including some of the biggest and burliest players on the field. Still, this disallowed try, and the way it culminated Fergo’s disappointments over the course of the evening, couldn’t help but sap some of the Roosters’ energy. Since he can be so inconsistent, Ferguson’s form often feels like a litmus test for the team as a whole, and after such a stellar start to the 2018 season his near-tries here were inevitably pretty disheartening.
At the same time, however, they were disheartening for the Dogs as well, who needed a try as much as the Roosters – even if it was from the Roosters – to regain the sense of urgency needed to galvanise their own attacking. With Adam Elliott putting down the ball shortly after, however, it was not to be, and the siren sounded with the scoreline set at 0-6, just as it had been in the first five minutes of the game.
While the Roosters might have won, the first try was so distant, and their position on the ladder so ascendant over the Dogs, that it barely felt as if they’d won by these final minutes. For both teams, then, this game didn’t feel especially conclusive or cathartic – even a dramatic loss can be cathartic, and fuel a powerhouse performance the following week – so it seems only likely that the Chooks will be exorcising their demons following their game against the Bunnies, and the Dogs flexing their muscles after their win over the Cowboys, more extensively next week.