ROUND 4: Sydney Roosters v. Brisbane Broncos (Sydney Cricket Ground, 4/4/19)

The Roosters were keen for a decisive win against the Broncos at the SCG on Thursday night, following on from their victory over the Eels – and Blake Ferguson – at ANZ in Round 3. They got the first penalty of the night following a flop from Alex Glenn, and James Tedesco immediately showcased his footwork on the first tackle, only for Brisbane to get an early letoff after Sio Siua lost the ball on the next tackle, leaving it open for Joe Ofahengaue to slam in and scoop it up.

Latrell Mitchell tried to compensate for the aborted Sydney City momentum by crowding in on the next play, but he only gave away a penalty, getting the Broncos back down the other end of the field. Once they were there, Anthony Milford kicked on the fourth tackle, only for the football to ricochet off the defence, forcing another kick on the fifth that Corey Oates knocked forwards. At first, it seemed as if the Chooks hadn’t paid too dearly for their error at the end of the field, but things reversed quickly when Tevita Pangai Jr. stripped the ball from Isaac Liu.

The Broncos now banked on their left edge, but Darius Boyd held the football for a fraction too long at the end of the play, leading Oates to overrun the pass, and leaving him open to be bundled over the edge into touch. With Pangai now mirroring Mitchell’s crowding penalty, the Roosters got another attacking opportunity, and made the most of it, with Luke Keary getting things rolling with a deft try assist – a long pass across to Matt Ikuvalu on the right edge, helped by a tip-on from Joseph Manu that was too quick and subtle to even qualify as a catch-and-pass.

This was a nice moment for Manu, who could easily have deflected the football backwards if he’d touched it at a slightly different angle. It was even better moment for Ikuvalu, who simply slammed through Jack Bird to put down the first four points of the night. Last week against the Eels, the Roosters’ right edge were the biggest casualties of the Parramatta attack, so it was rousing to see Manu and Ikuvalu combining to get the Chooks on the board so early in this game.

It was also an important message to the Broncos, who would continue to target the Roosters’ right edge, but now realized that Manu and Ikuvalu wouldn’t be leaking points like they did last week. With Mitchell’s conversion fading away to the left at the last minute, the Tricolors were only four points ahead, but they made a big statement on the restart, where a huge opening run from Liu set Cooper Cronk up for a massive kick that trapped Oates right on the Brisbane line.

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Milford tried to respond with an equally big kick at the end of the next Broncos set, and actually made good contact between ball and boot, only to apply a bit too much pressure, resulting in an overlong trajectory that got the Chooks seven tackles for their second set following Ikuvalu’s opening effort. At the end of this set, Sydney City made an enormous defensive effort after Jamayne Isaako bundled up a soaring crossfield kick from Keary and bounced back into the field.

Before he could travel ten metres, he was met by Mitchell, Tupou and Cordner, who promptly dragged him across the sideline, getting their team the scrum feed ten metres out. Two tackles later, Angus Crichton made one of the best runs so far this year, collecting the footy twenty metres out and running a diagnonal angle to brush Milford off before coming to ground, right on the line, with Milford and Ofahengae only just managing to get a hand to him.

So improbable was this run and putdown that Crichton himself didn’t think he’d made it, shaking his head in frustration to dissuade his team mates from unnecessary celebrations. In slow motion, however, it was clear that Crichton had managed to just brush the ball onto the chalk, taking advantage of the briefest of pauses in Milford and Ofanhengae’s momentum – a grounding so instinctive and subliminal that Crichton had to see it to actually believe that it had happened.

This time, Mitchell added the extras, putting the Roosters ten points ahead. Buoyed up by the spectacle of Crichton’s first try in the Tricolors, the home team were really rolling, and remained the stronger team on the park for the next period of play. Nevertheless, two frustrating moments made a dent in their momentum, the first of which came shortly after Crichton’s try, as Pangai made a ridiculously late tackle on Cronk – a sickening spectacle for the home crowd for their star halfback’s return.

Sixteen minutes out from the half time siren, the Roosters had more frustration, as Zane Tetevano fumbled a certain try. It would have been hard for the Broncos to wrest the game back if Sydney City had scored a third try at this point, but neither side was able to make the most of the next couple of sets, as the slippery ball seemed to get the best of both teams. First, it was a lost ball from Keary, who dummied to Cordner twice and then took on the line, gathering the footy into his chest only to pop it out under some handy pressure from Matt Gillett.

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The next error was even worse, and cemented this as a nightmare night for Oates, who fumbled the football while trying to play it at the start of the next Brisbane set. This change in momentum was too big for the Roosters not to score, and sure enough Mitch Aubusson went over for his third try of the year, off his first touch in the game, at the start of the next set.

It was an object lesson in Aubusson’s ability to suddenly shift the direction of play. Receiving an outside ball from Cronk, he actually started his run before the ball had even left Cooper’s hands, opting for a sharp angle back inside the field that took the Brisbane defence entirely by surprise. If the Roosters had limited their pointscoring here, they would still have been hard to overtake in the second half, but they put on six more points at the back end of arguably the most galvanising first half conclusion we’ve seen so far this year.

It started with a great take under the high ball from Tedesco that was quickly undercut by a handling error from Mitchell on the next carry. Milford kicked early in the next set, taking advantage of a Sydney City defence that were still primed to tackle rather than kick chase. It was the perfect try assist, but Jack Bird now mirrored Tetevano by bombing a certain try – an even more certain try – gathering the footy into his body only to find it slipping out of his right hand just before he could ground it.

Losing these points was painful enough for the Broncos, but the Roosters now responded with one of their tightest sets of the night, enabled by a great fend from Cronk and a terrific offload from Manu halfway up the field. When the play shifted back to the inside, Keary booted a crossfield kick to the left corner, where Tupou leapt up, caught the footy in both hands, and muscled his way through a sea of Roosters attackers and Brisbane defenders to put down another four points.

In a way, it felt fitting that Mitchell missed the conversion, since he’d been positioned in front of the play during Tupou’s try, and could conceivably have been interpreted as taking out Isaako in the process. Still, this was a dazzling display from the Roosters and a dispiriting end for the Broncos, who might have gone into halftime 18-6, but were now 22-0, having experienced their biggest first half deficit to the Roosters in the NRL for their first NRL game to be played at the SCG.

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After such a terrible start, it was only natural that the Broncos would really dig in when they returned from the sheds. Yet the Roosters’ defense proved to be just as strong as their attack. Even the biggest run of the night from Kotoni Staggs – bigger than Crichton and Aubusson combined – was held up right on the line. Moments later, Andrew McCullough tried to continue Staggs’ moment with a last tackle kick, but it was too long and fast for Jayden Su’A to have a chance of getting to it.

Five minutes later, Radley made an enormous tackle on Boyd, although with nobody at dummy half at the start of next set, Glenn was able to regather the footy and almost slam over the line. All of a sudden, the Broncos had possession once again, but Manu reversed things just as quickly with an intercept early in the tackle count. The Roosters wouldn’t score on this set, but they continued to consolidate. Tedesco, in particular, felt like he was raring for a spectacular moment, putting in an incredible kick chase to beat Milford to the ball at the fifty-second minute.

The Broncos still got a dropout, however, and got themselves on the board three tackles in, when Nikorima collected the footy out of dummy half and briefly showed it to the right before popping across a short pass to Gillett to crash over and score. It was a very calm and organized play, as it needed to be if the Broncos were going to start mounting a comeback. While Isaako might have missed the conversion, keeping the Chooks three converted tries ahead, Brisbane put in a barnstorming set on the restart, culminating with a big kick from Milford that Ikuvalu only just caught on the full.

A soft error from Bird now paved the way for another burst of brilliance from the Roosters, as Tedesco recovered the footy and got it across to Ikuvalu. From there, David Fifita made a low tackle on Keary, who lost the ball, and the Broncos shifted the footy across to their left edge, where they started to build some dangerous momentum. The rhythm didn’t quite come together, however, leading to Oates botching a harbor bridge pass and some frustrated words from Darius Boyd.

What really resonated at the end of this sequence, then, was Tedesco’s confidence in regathering the ball from Bird. On the next set, Teddy comfortably watched a Nikorima kick bounce into touch. On the set after that, Keary received a wide pass from Radley before popping it back inside to his fullback, who condensed all his accelerating brilliance over the last fifteen minutes into the single best display of footwork in the game.

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It was as if Teddy had condensed and refined Crichton and Aubusson’s runs, dancing left, then right, then left again, to curve around the outside of Boyd and crash over the line. Only a try from their fullback had been missing from this Sydney City master class, so this was a triumphant moment for the Chooks, a burst of confidence strong enough to sustain them for a good couple of weeks at least.

No surprise, then, that Tedesco’s achievement was contagious, with Aubusson now scoring for his first double in five years and 110 games. Once again, Keary provided the assist, booting the football into the corner, where Isaako knocked it forward, and Aubusson skidded in to pick up and ground it before he tumbled into touch. In slow motion, you could see that his left foot never left the ground, sliding across the grass to reach the sideline the very moment after he put down the football.

The Roosters weren’t done with the excitement, ending the second half as brilliantly as they’d ended the first half, with a team try that encapsulated everything that had made their game so entertaining to watch. It started with a last-tackle kick that ricocheted off the defence halfway down the field, seeming to end the play. Never giving up, Teddy and Butcher sent out offloads right on the ground, before Crichton tapped the footy backwards after seeing he was unable to get a kick in himself.

From there, Aubusson scooped it up and offloaded it to Mitchell, who shanked it to the left edge of the field, where Oates’ nightmare game culminated with it bouncing off his shoulder and into Manu’s chest. All the big winger had to do was scoot around the congealing defence, and he did just that, bringing the Roosters to 4-36 once Mitchell’s conversion attempt went awry. Like the game itself, it was impossible to ascribe the brilliance of this sequence to any one player in the home team, who are congealing better than any other team at this point in 2019.

The conclusion was all the more impressive in that Cronk was off the field with a back laceration, proving just how much depth the Tricolors have at their disposal. Whether or not he returns to the park next week, they’ll be looking for the same level of synergy when they take on the Sharks at Cronulla next Saturday night. Meanwhile, the Broncos will be looking to take the edge off a hard loss when they meet the Tigers in a week’s time, this time with a home ground advantage at Suncorp.

About Billy Stevenson (731 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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