ROUND 3: Parramatta Eels v. Sydney Roosters (ANZ Stadium, 29/3/19)

Friday night’s game at ANZ Stadium was a high-stakes affair for both sides, and the match that both teams have been raring to play since Blake Fergsuon announced that he was signing with Parramatta. On the one hand, the Roosters – and James Tedesco – needed a really decisive win after two lopsided starts to the season. On the other side of the Steeden, the Eels have been pretty Roosters-like so far in 2019, especially with Fergo on board, and needed to test that against the Roosters themselves.

The first part of the game was all Parramatta, as the blue and gold army received one repeat set after another. At first, the Roosters defence was up to the task, culminating with a big effort from Brad Takairangi being cleaned up by an even bigger effort from Latrell Mitchell, who dragged the looming Parramatta backliner over the sideline. With a penalty on Luke Keary for working on the ground, however, the Eels got field position again immediately, and made the most of it with a dropout.

This dropout was a stunning sequence in and of itself, as Dylan Brown chose to kick on the first tackle, and Mitchell Moses responded with a brilliant kick chase that only a player of Tedesco’s calibre could have managed to outpace and elude. The Mitchell-Takairangi power dynamic now reversed, as Latrell executed the dropout, and Takairangi collected the footy from Junior Paulo a couple of tackles later, before sending it out to Ferguson for the first four points of the game.

Not only was Paulo’s cut-out pass as crisp and precise as could be desired, but Takairangi responded with a perfect pickup, scooping the Steeden into his chest a second before it hit the turf, and then drawing in Tedesco before popping it across to Fergo at the critical moment. It goes without saying that a try from Ferguson in the first five minutes was the best way for the Eels to make a statement against the Roosters.

In this opening sequence Parramatta thus shone with the same scintillating confidence that they exuded with Semi Radadra or Jarryd Hayne were at their prime, putting themselves six ahead once Moses booted the extras through the posts. To mount a comeback, the Roosters had to puncture Ferguson, and the way he was lifting his team, although with only one set up their sleeve so far this looked like it might pose some problems.

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Their resurgence happened quicker than anyone could have predicted, however, as a handling error from Daniel Alvaro early in the next set got them a close-range shot at the line. You could see the determination in the big runs from Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Sio Suia Taikeiaho and then JWH again on the first, third and fourth tackles. For a moment, some mistiming from Keary on the second tackle seemed to betoken a wobbly set from the Roosters – effectively an opening set – but the star five-eighth made up for it on the last, with a deft pass across to Mitchell on the left.

From there, Latrell ran into the line and straightened the play, before popping the ball across to Tedesco, who dummed to the left, and initially looked as if he might shift the Steeden to the outside, before deciding to take on the line himself. It was exactly the gesture of leadership needed from a fullback, and paid even bigger dividends when Fergo turned out to be the main defender standing between Teddy and the chalk.

Gathering the footy into his chest, Tedesco slammed through Ferguson, and eluded Clint Gutherson, to twist the ball around his head and score the first four points for Sydney City. Fergo had scored in the first five minutes, and Teddy had now broken through Fergo to score in the first ten minutes, so the stage was set for exactly the match that fans had been hoping for, and exactly the question they were hoping to see answered: how much of an asset had Ferguson been to Sydney City, and how much would they suffer from having to face him in a Parramatta jersey?

It took a while for this question to be answered, however, since the next try wouldn’t come until almost ten minutes into the second half. Over the rest of the first half, four more points were scored, but they were both penalty kicks for the Roosters. The first came after a slow peel from Paulo, allowing Mitchell to level the score to 6-6 after missing the first conversion. The second came half an hour in, following a slow peel from Tim Mannah, and was actually preceded by a resurgence from the blue and gold army, starting with a big run from Fergo on the first tackle and then a quick tap from Gutherson a couple of tackles later, following a slow peel from Zane Tetevano.

With Shaun Lane coughing up the footy at the end of the set, however, this all came to nothing, while the subsequent kick from Mitchell quashed whatever momentum the Eels had been able to generate. The ball now moved back and forth for a series of sets, until an error from Matt Ikuvalu ushered in the last minute of the first half, producing a scrum feed for Parra that ended up with a mistimed kick from Fergo to Takairangi that gave the Roosters eleven more seconds to score again.

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They didn’t succeed, but the final note of this first half was this awkward moment from Ferguson, meaning that the Eels had to work doubly hard after they came back from the sheds to recoup the rhythm of their splendid opening surge. They were helped by some of the messiest moments of the night from the Roosters, including a Manu kick that ricocheted off Maika Sivo, who did a great job of not playing at it, along with a bizarre set that ended with a kick from Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

Once again, Sivo was the star for the Eels, scooping up the footy and getting downfield, where Parramatta started to build some serious pressure, culminating with a huge run from Lane and a deft closing grubber from Moses that forced Tedesco to crash to ground to clean it up. At the end of the next blue and gold set, a Moses bomb was cleaned up by Tupou, only for an obstruction from Mitchell on Ferguson to give the Eels another shot at the line.

They made the most of it, as all the potential that Sivo had been showing over the last few sets resulted in his first try in the NRL. The foundation was laid by Fergo, who made a huge effort on the first tackle, swinging a handful of defenders around him on the Parramatta left edge, before a follow-up effort from Marata Niukore on the third tackle depleted the Roosters’ resources even further.

The stage was set for Brown to run into the line a tackle later, where he paused and lowered the football as if to kick, only to pop it across to Gutherson, who responded with a superb cut-out pass that hit Sivo on the chest right on the edge of the park. From there, Sivo ducked under a tackle from Manu and then slid past Tedesco to get over the line. After such a long time without tries, this felt every bit as resounding as the Eels’ opening points, and demanded a quick and efficient response from the Chooks.

Tedesco got things rolling right away on their next set, getting his men seven tackles by putting one boot back over the line when catching a Moses bomb. On the third tackle, he showed the same restless drive, offloading to Keary who popped a harbor bridge pass across to Mitchell in turn. While the Roosters wouldn’t score on this particular play, Keary built on the momentum at the end of the set, drawing on his terrific surge against the Sea Eagles last week with a crossfield kick to Tupou.

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This was the biggest one-on-one contest with Ferguson since Tedesco had slammed over him in the opening half, as Tupou leapt above his ex-no. 5 and popped the ball back over his head, where it was scooped up and slammed down by Mitch Aubusson. For a moment, Fergo believed that Takairangi had managed to keep Aubusson out, and threw some shade at Tupou, but the replay showed that this had been the best grounding of the night so far, putting the Roosters six ahead after Mitchell booted through a curling sideline conversion.

Two errors on the back of tries now led to points for the opposite team. The first came off the back of a lost ball from Taukeiaho, giving Moses space to scoot up the right edge, before another terrific pair of passes from Brown and Gutherson allowed Sivo to repeat his effort on the left. This time, Sivo seemed more confident he could do it, relying on strength more than stealth as he put his head down and barraged Ikuvalu into the ground without losing control of the football in the process.

While Sivo might have disposed of Ikuvalu, he still wasn’t at the line, and it took a superhuman display of strength for him to get an arm free and plant the footy down after Manu jumped on top of him and Ikuvalu to try and regain control of the play. With Fergo a little bit quieter in this second half, Sivo’s mammoth effort had more than a touch of Semi Radrara about it, and must have been as galvanising to his home town back in Fiji as it was to the Parramatta supporters in the crowd.

Meanwhile, this was yet another frustrating moment for Manu and Ikuvalu, who had been the main casualties of the Parramatta attack throughout the night. Nevertheless, this was still a fairly evenly paced game when a handling error from Fergo changed everything, gifting the Roosters the field position and psychological stamina that they needed to put down the last three tries of the game. Moments later, Victor Radley collected the footy out of dummy half, got away from Reed Mahoney, who overread the play, and scored with Gutherson and Brown on his back.

Eleven minutes out from the end, the Roosters got some terrific position off big runs from Cordner, Tetevano and Taukeiaho on the opening tackles. On the fourth, Radley and Keary sent the football out to Tedesco, who stopped and then skidded back inside, shifting it across to Taukeiaho as he barked out and pointed to the space that had opened up in the defence.

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It was a classic moment of fullback leadership from Tedesco, and paid dividends immediately, as Taukeiaho slammed through the defence, starting to move to the ground about five metres out from the line, banking upon his bulk, his strength and the slipperiness of the field to get him through the few big men from Parramatta who could get there in time. The Roosters couldn’t have asked for a better set to score on – brilliant vision and dexterity from the spine, bookended by power moves from the big forwards – as they clocked up another six points once Mitchell had added the extras.

That sense of symmetry extended to their last try, which saw Tedesco bookend the game with another four points, and an even more dramatic display of strength and skill than his opening effort. Collecting the footy from Radley on the fourth tackle, Teddy found himself ten metres out from the line, and about twenty metres in from the right sideline, but still found a way to run a diagnonal line to score on the right edge.

In slow motion, it was arguably the best run so far this year, as Tedesco got on the outside of Lane and left nothing to chance with a right hand fend, before dancing over Gutherson right on the line, all the while keeping the Steeden poised in his right arm in case he had to offload out to his right. It not only capped a superb final sequence for the Roosters, but for Tedesco in particular, who settled back into the fullback jersey more comfortably than in either of their first two games.

The Roosters are finally rolling, then, and will be keen to continue this incredible momentum when they take on the Broncos at the SCG next Thursday night. When you consider that they’re still without Cooper Cronk (and without Jared Waerea-Hargreaves at full capacity) it’s scary to think what they might be able to achieve as the season gets going. Meanwhile, this was a bit of a wake-up call for the Eels, a reminder that Fergo isn’t the answer to everything, although they should feel as heartened by the first sixty minutes as the Roosters were by their first fifty minutes against Manly next week. Nevertheless, the blue and gold army will be looking for a big effort when they try to bounce back against the Sharks next Saturday night.

About Billy Stevenson (751 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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