The Roosters came into Saturday afternoon’s match at Central Coast Stadium desperate to put last week’s loss to the Broncos behind them, and to return to the winning streak of their terrific pair of victories over the Warriors in Round 10 and the Sea Eagles in Round 9. While the scorelines might have been 32-0 and 22-20 respectively, both matches had attested to the Tricolors’ resolve under pressure, and the Chooks were clearly looking to make the most of a Gold Coast outfit that only had a win over the Knights to show after a couple of weeks of disappointing losses.
As it turned out, however, Gold Coast were the dominant force over the first part of the game, starting wit a penalty goal from Michael Gordon at the third minute. Propelled forward by those opening points, Ash Taylor put in a deft grubber a few sets later that not only threaded the Sydney defence, but threaded its way through Blake Ferguson’s legs as he spun around to try and contain it. Despite an impending tackle from Konrad Hurrell, Fergo managed to get another hand to it, but only succeeded in tapping the football, leaving it live for Gordon to swoop in and score.
While the ex-Rooster may not have added the extras, the opening two-pointer meant that the Titans were a converted try in front with less than ten minutes on the clock, resulting in an even more decisive Gold Coast surge that ended with Joseph Manu grounded after an inadvertent clash with Nathan Peats. At first, Manu’s neck injury seemed serious enough to rule him out for the rest of the game, yet with Victor Radley set to trot on the field into his place, the medical stuff ruled the wiry centre backliner fit to play, as he returned to his feet to get back amongst it.
No doubt, Manu’s subsequent play-the-ball was executed more gingerly than any other in his career, but Boyd Cordner compensated with a hard, strong run that forced Jarrod Wallace to concede the first penalty of the afternoon to the Roosters. With another penalty, three tackles later, for Kevin Proctor being offside, the Chooks chose to tap and go – a refreshing decision after what has increasingly come to feel like an endless sequence of penalty goals over the last couple of weeks of football.
If Manu’s injury initially seemed like a blow for the Roosters, then seeing him get to his feet galvanised the team over this next set, where they built an attacking platform that concluded with a deft chip from Jake Friend out of dummy half. Sailing past Proctor, the ball took the Titans’ defence utterly by surprise, but James Tedesco saw what was coming and flew after it, bouncing it to ground with one hand in the display of fullback genius and verve we saw so often during his tenure at the Tigers.
The Titans were the next to get a bit of a comeback vibe, after a try from Anthony Don, and an amazing crossfield pass from Taylor, were called back for the most abstract and notional obstruction so far this year. At first, the Chooks seemed to have surged off this change in fortune, but a terrific offload on the ground from Radley saw Napa try just a little hard to scoop it up, leading to a loose ball that the Gold Coast defensive line immediately reclaimed as their own, resuming their attack.
They scored on the next set, too, once again off the back of a combination from Taylor and Don, with a nice little setup from Peats at the beginning of it all. This time, however, it was more of a tight situation for the Gold Coast halfback, who found himself clenched into the right edge but nevertheless managed a superb cut-out pass to put his winger over for his seventh try in seven games against Sydney.
It was almost worth the disappointment of seeing Don’s first try called back for the resounding spectacle of this second four-pointer, although the Titans didn’t capitalise upon it as quickly as might have been expected. In the last minute, Taylor tried to compound the Gold Coast lead with a field goal, but he kicked too low, allowing Ferguson to catch the footy on the full, resulting in a quick scuffle that saw the Roosters get a penalty right on the siren after an error from Moeaki Fotuiaka.
In one final moment of drama, Cooper Cronk’s penalty kick didn’t make it over the sideline, although with Hurrell catching it and placing it into touch the first stanza was over. Not having scored in these final minutes was worrying for the Titans, though, given the momentum they received after Don’s try, and sure enough the Roosters were dominant after they returned to the park, culminating with a superb pair of passes from Cronk and Radley that set up Isaac Liu to smash through the Titans defence, fending off Copley, James and Gordon to get the second Sydney try.
To make matters worse for Gold Coast, Taylor was sent to the bin at the fifty-minute mark, as Latrell Mitchell added a penalty goal to put the Roosters two points ahead for the first time of the afternoon. Young Latrell wasn’t done, however, since a terrific pass from Cordner right on the line allowed him to elbow his way through a sea of Titans jerseys for a try that was every bit as gutsy as Liu’s a few sets earlier, especially when it came to Gordon, who he simply steamrolled en route to the line.
The fact that Mitchell’s best strike rate is against Gold Coast made these four points – six, once he’d added the extras – feel just that bit more emphatic as well, as the visitors took a deep breath and got set to defend against an extra man for eight more minutes. A big run from Zane Tetevano defied them, however, setting Cronk up for what amounted to a one-man try, and the high point of the game for Sydney.
The play started with Peats coming in out of his line to apply additional pressure, allowing Cronk to thread through a beautiful kick that saw the football bounce dangerously before ricocheting off the left upright, making it almost impossible for Bryce Cartwright to clean it up. Never giving up on the play, Cronk had already made it to the uprights, where the footy bounced off his leg, careening onto the turf where he now reached out a hand for the softest try of the night, Tedesco right behind him.
In a year in which Cronk has had comparatively fewer opportunities to showcase his genius than he did at the Storm, this one-man effort, bookended by a superb kick and superb putdown, was a special moment, bringing the Chooks to double the Titans at 28-14 once Mitchell added the extras. They wouldn’t score again during Taylor’s absence from the field, but they didn’t need to, since this piece of play spoke to their superior performance more emphatically than any other this game.
That said, Gold Coast clicked again as soon as Taylor trotted back onto the field, resulting in an amazing set with fifteen minutes to go, reaching the twenty by the first tackle, and forcing a dropout after Tedesco found himself grounding the footy at the back of a Taylor kick. Still, it all ended with a forward pass from Alex Brimson to Brenko Lee halfway through the subsequent set, in what was probably the last really decisive tryscoring opportunity for the Titans in this back half of the afternoon.
The Roosters weren’t done, however, with Tedesco now proceeding to put in a one-man display to rival that of Cronk’s, making for arguably the first game of the year in which both these players have managed to showcase their brilliance at its very apex. Collecting the football from Friend in the middle of the field, Teddy simply sliced through the line and into open space, veering over towards Sio Siua Taukeiaho on his left side as he skipped away from a low tackle from Gordon, before abruptly shifting the play back towards the centre, where he ducked out of a tackle from Peats and put in some terrific footwork to loop the ball across to an undefended Mitch Aubusson out on the far right edge, who put down the final four points of the game.
The try was all the more magnificent in that the Chooks were a man down during these final moments, with Mitchell having been sent to the bin after an escalating passage of Sydney City errors. That didn’t bother Ferguson, though, who booted through a challenging sideline conversion as if he were the team’s first choice kicker, in a rousing moment for a home team that had struggled a bit in the opening period.
Still, these final moments were all Tedesco, whose run was the final piece in his bid for a Blues jersey, and which couldn’t have come at a better moment, following on from Cronk’s one-man effort shortly before. For a game that had started with all the hesitation that has tempered the Roosters’ performance this year, it ended with a testament to their new fullback and halfback’s capacity to thrive under new conditions. They’ll be looking to make the most of this momentum when they take on the Tigers without their big two players next week, while the Titans will get back to the drawing board over the bye before taking on the Bunnies at Cbus in Round 14.