ROUND 19: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v. Sydney Roosters (Lottoland, 22/7/18)

The Broncos might have notched up fifty points against the Panthers the day before, but the Roosters came away with the highest scoreline of Round 19 after decimating the Sea Eagles 56-24 at Lottoland on Sunday afternoon. Two minutes into the match, Frank Winterstein leaked the first penalty after being called offside at the back end of a DCE kick, and at the other end of the park an offload from Sio Siua Taukeihao set the Roosters up for the first try of the game.

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It didn’t happen as seamlessly as Sydney City might have hoped, as Jake Friend and then James Tedesco both tried to get a hand to the football, but only managed to flick it backwards. Yet this just gave Victor Radley the platform for one of his best moves of the year so far, as he audaciously popped the Steeden up into the air in front of Moses Suli’s face, gathered it, bobbled it and then regained possession, before finally crossing over for the first four points.

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Even in the chaotic and glary conditions on the far side of the field, the Roosters had managed to gel and score, and they continued their momentum on the restart, where two quick play-the-balls and a hard run from Blake Ferguson got them another offside penalty, once again from Winterstein, who was also pinged for a slow peel moments later. A couple of sets after, yet another offside penalty for Manly gave the visitors the field position they needed for their second try, as Luke Keary collected a cut-out pass from Jake Friend and straightened the play enough for Boyd Cordner to get on the outside of Tom Wright and put down four more.

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A few sets later, Joseph Manu broke through the line on the Roosters’ left edge, dancing his way along the sideline before being brought down by Brad Parker. The Chooks didn’t halt, however, as a superb string of passes from Keary, Cronk, Radley and Manu saw Fergo cross over in the right corner before Tom Turbo could get to him. While the halves were as seamless as ever, special mention has to go to Radley, for his timing, and Manu, who lingered just long enough to draw Matthew Wright away from Ferguson.

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The Roosters were starting to build some real momentum, so the Sea Eagles needed to respond with a real momentum-killer. They got it a couple of sets later, when Tupou muscled his way right to the line on the left edge, only for a killer tackle from Turbo to bring him down before he could score. Usually, Tupou’s wiry frame means he can reach out an arm and ground the footy even in these circumstances, but the Manly fullback brought even more conviction than usual, cleaning up Tupou then and there.

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It didn’t help, either, that Tupou showed some mistiming here, since he could easily have flicked the football over to Friend, who was unmarked on his right, to give the Roosters’ hooker his first try of the season. Trbojevic didn’t merely coast on Tupou’s error, though, skidding across the entire ruck a set later before finding himself on the right sideline, with no players on his outside, and in serious danger of being bundled, ball in all, into touch.

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Instead, Turbo put in one of the best clutch moves of the game, booting the footy in goal, where Radley was caught with it, gaining the Sea Eagles their first dropout of the evening. It was a gutsy move from a player not normally renowned for his kicking precision, but the Chooks recapitulated their momentum spectacularly with a condensed passage of pure speed that started with Teddy cleaning up Turbo’s last-tackle grubber, and slamming himself back into the field of play.

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A tackle later, Friend nosed his way up to the line and then sent the footy across to Tedesco to break through it. The New South Wales fullback now ran about seventy metres, dummying left, dummying right, and then passing it on to Radley, who was brought down about a metre out from the line. This wasn’t going to be a repeat of Tupou’s near-try, however, since the Roosters were playing at such an accelerated pace by this stage that all it took was a quick play-the-ball for Tedesco to send the football across to Joseph Manu, who crossed the chalk for yet another try.

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The Roosters were back, and back with a vengeance, as a cut-out pass from Friend sent Fergo across for a double a couple of sets later. Friend doesn’t always come up with the best option right on the line, but this was superb. You could see Matthew Wright’s frustration at not laying a hand on the big Roosters winger, as the scoreline rocketed to 28-0 once Latrell Mitchell sent his fourth conversion of the evening through the uprights.

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Things were looking pretty desperate for the Sea Eagles, who already seemed to be cut out of the game. They had to score, and score immediately, and they got their platform shortly after, when a second dropout, and a pair of penalties from Lindsay Collins and Zane Tetevano, provided them with the field position they needed. To their credit, they made the most of it, as a perfect catch-and-pass from Trent Hodkinson offset some close-range pressure from Luke Keary to send Winterstein across.

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After his messy start to the game, you could tell there was something cathartic for Winterstein in winning this one-on-one contest with Tedesco, who put in a powerful effort to try and wrench the footy from his opponent’s grasp, but didn’t quite manage to secure it before the big second-rower slammed it to ground. With Hodkinson putting through the extras, the Sea Eagles got ready to grind against a Roosters outfit that were not going to let any Manly points go unanswered.

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Sure enough, all the Chooks’ points now condensed into a passage so simple and elegant in its execution that it immediately undercut Hodkinson and Winterstein’s efforts. So simple, indeed, was the play that you could have easily have predicted it in advance – a sublime crossfield kick from Cronk, a brilliant catch in the air from Tupou, who passed it back to Mitchell in the same movement, and then some terrific footwork from Mitchell, who got on the outside of Parker to score another try.

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In some ways, this was the point where the Roosters really felt as if they had won the game, despite the fact that we were only at the end of the first forty minutes. This play had been so seamless, and so formulaic, that it divested the match of any real sense of competition, instead making it feel more like a training game, or even a footy demonstration, rather than a contest that Manly had any chance of winning.

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The second stanza started with a bit more promise for the Sea Eagles, as a slow peel from Lindsay Collins got them back down the other end of the park a bit sooner than they were expecting. After a few efforts at edging their way through the line, Fainu put in a crossfield kick across to the right edge, where Parker lost it but DCE scooped it up, curving around to boot through a mirror image of Fainu’s kick that found Lane and Ferguson contesting it in goal.

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At first, Fergo seemed to have won the battle, reaching the footy first and knocking it backwards, but the replay showed that it had somehow careened through Lane’s arms without making any contact. From there, it had landed on the second-rower’s boot, ricocheting into Friend before making contact with Lane once again, who bent down, reached out an arm, and tapped it on the line for the unlikeliest try of the night so far.

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The Sea Eagles had now wrenched four points out of an even more chaotic configuration than Radley’s opening effort, while Lane had become their top tryscorer of the season. Once again, the Roosters needed to respond, and they did so with an even more elegant sequence than their closing try at the end of the first act, off the back of a hard first-tackle run from Fergo that saw them barnstorm their way up the field for one of their most emphatic sets of the second stanza so far.

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At the other end of the park, however, it all crystallised to a remarkably simple play – a kick from Friend through Taupau and Fainu beneath the posts. With Tom Turbo caught out of position, all Collins had to do was beat Hodkinson to the ball, slamming it down so effortlessly that you’d never know that he’d had to ask one of the medical staff to pop a dislocated finger back into place a minute earlier.

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It was the perfect way for Collins to respond to the opening error that had set up Lane’s try, but for the first time in the game the Sea Eagles now had a response of their own, rather than merely allowing the pointscoring to be swallowed up in another swell of Sydney City momentum. This time, it was Brian Kelly who set things up, building on a brilliant offload from Taupau to run deep into the line, charged with an energy that made it seem as if he would offload, or break through.

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Instead, Kelly kept on digging, forcing the Roosters’ defence to gather and exhaust itself around him before he ducked under Nat Butcher and finally offloaded to Tom Trbojevic, who was able to score quite easily with so much of the Sydney City energy directed at his backliner. After one of the longest tryscoring droughts of his season, this was a triumphant moment for both Turbo and his team – their best starting-point for a comeback if they were going to manage to execute one.

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Yet they wouldn’t score their final try again until the seventy-fifth minute, as the Chooks now proceeded to put in a miniature comeback of their own, starting with a second try from Mitchell with about twenty minutes left on the clock. All it took was a cut-out pass from Tedesco on the left edge, as Mitchell stepped back into the field, pivoting off the left boot to get around Parker and slam down four more points for the Roosters – and six more once he converted his own try moments later.

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The last two Roosters tries occurred in quick succession, and started with Cordner sending Keary through the line on the left edge, where he kicked at high speed, but a bit too hard to make anything out of it, gifting the Sea Eagles a seven tackle set in the process. Yet an awkward pass from DCE saw Keary get the ball back again a tackle later, and on the following set Keary repeated his ingenuity on the left, brushing past Suli to offload to Mitchell, who following his five-eighth’s previous path before sending the footy across on his inside to Tedesco.

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It was the first time that Teddy had scored since the Roosters’ 34-14 win over the Titans in Round 12. Combined with the sheer elegance and simplicity of so many of the team’s tryscoring formations over the course of the evening, this was starting to feel like a critical moment in this new Roosters outfit congealing and coming together – and a vision of just what they could achieve in finals football if they continued to sync up so seamlessly and professionally.

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Sure, enough, they scored again a minute later, on the restart, which started with a tackle from Taukeiaho, and ended with a linebreak from Keary sending Taukeiaho across at the other end of the park, as Jared Waerea-Hargreaves raced up from behind to celebrate a try for the Sydney City forwards. It culminated a terrific period for Keary, and was the crowning glory to possibly the best single game for Sydney City so far this season.

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While DCE might have crossed over five minutes out from the end, it never really felt as if the Sea Eagles had the last word, so thoroughly had the Chooks stamped their signature on the game. Not only had the Roosters broken their all-time pointscoring record against the Sea Eagles at Brookvale, but it was the first time the Sea Eagles had lost five straight games at Brookvale since 2004. Add to that the fact that this was the fiftieth clash between the two teams at Brookvale, and that the Roosters had only won 13 of the previous 49 games, and this was a win for the ages – one that Manly will be keen to salve when they take on the Panthers at home next week.

About Billy Stevenson (497 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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