ROUND 8: Sydney Roosters v. Wests Tigers (Sydney Cricket Ground, 4/5/19)

The Roosters have had some big teams to contend with over the last couple of weeks, but won by ten over the Dragons for their annual ANZAC Day clash, and were bolstered by the return of one of their most important playmakers in Luke Keary when they hosted the Wests Tigers at the SCG on Saturday night. The Tigers may have come from behind to put thirty points on the Titans in Round 6, but they were still smarting from their catastrophic loss to the Eels at Bankwest, while the absence of both Benji Marshall and Josh Reynolds put some big pressure on Luke Brooks here.

Sydney City leaked the first penalty after Cooper Cronk was called offside at the back of an opening Luke Keary bomb, but they didn’t allow the Tigers to do anything with the field position, as Mitch Aubusson dragged Robert Jennings over the sideline just as he was making some headway up the left edge. On the next set, Cronk took the kick, and the Tigers took a step backwards, with Moses Mbye coughing up the high ball after some poor communication with Corey Thompson in the backline.

The Roosters now had their first attacking opportunity of the night, and made the most of it. Cronk started by asking some big questions on the left edge, before Isaac Liu took a tackle to straighten the play, giving his men some time and space to get ready for a right side raid. They didn’t get to it, however, since Robbie Farah was pinged for crowding, setting up Latrell Mitchell to boot through the first penalty goal of the night – the first step in one of Latrell’s best games so far in Roosters colours.

This was a conservative start for the Roosters, but just the steadying influence they needed to eventually sink into a major tryscoring groove. Sio Siua Taukeaiho took the first hit-up on the restart, before Angus Crichton, Jared Warea-Hargreaves and Isaac Liu added some muscle to build a strong platform for Cronk’s next bomb, only for Keary to knock on while trying to contest it in the air with Mbye. Still, the Chooks were playing the long game, with JWH and Victor Radley testifying to their defensive determination with the biggest hit so far on Josh Aloiai during the next set.

The Tigers were less confident in defence, as a slow peel from Ben Matulino gave the Tricolors another burst of field position, before a superb, split-second pass from Keary brought Tedesco right to the line on the second tackle, where only the most desperate defence from his former club was able to hold him up. Radley followed with an ambitious pass to Boyd Cordner right on the chalk, and didn’t quite pull it off, but even so the Roosters seemed to be focusing and consolidating more with each fresh set, while the visitors were still struggling to really find their feet.

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Two sets later it all came together for Sydney City, thanks to one of the best individual displays of the year from Latrell, along with a pretty nifty try assist from Keary, who made a no-look catch-and-pass to put his no. 3 into open space on the left edge of the field. Accelerating immediately, Latrell danced over an ankle tap from Mbye and then eluded a tackle from Esan Marsters right on the line, before leaping up into the air to land, football-first, for the first four-pointer of the game.

While Latrell might have shanked the conversion, this was still one of the best Roosters moments all year, especially since he had missed one of the training sessions in the week preceding this game. The spectacular slow motion footage of him recovering his balance after Mbye’s ankle tap seemed to galvanise the home team into restoring their focus after a rocky opening minutes, and a couple of challenging weeks of football in the leadup to their ANZAC win over the Dragons.

They looked set to score again a set later, when Teddy almost sliced right up through the ruck, with only Mbye still standing as the last line of defence, injecting the Roosters with a rhythm that survived Teddy’s next error, as well as a slow peel from Taukeiaho, to ensure that the Tigers weren’t able to capitalise on their next burst of field position. To get back into the contest, the Tigers needed a strong individual effort – and they got it in the best way, from ex-Rooster Ryan Matterson, who scored his first game against his old club a couple of minutes later.

Collecting the footy at the twenty metre line, Matterson mirrored and compressed Latrell’s spectacular run, getting past Cordner, moving too fast for a low tackle from Radley, and then colliding with Tedesco at speed to get the ball to ground. While Marsters has had a spotty year with the boot, he managed to add the extras here to level the scoreline to 6-6. The Roosters’ inability to consolidate in the opening minutes had cost them, especially since the Tigers now started to settle into their most assured passage of play so far.

In response, the Roosters made two big interchanges – Zane Tetevano for JWH, and Nat Butcher for Taukeiaho – before they abruptly reversed the momentum with a try against the direction of play. The catalyst was a dropped ball from Marsters, which Radley rapidly tapped back, laying the platform for a superb left sweep that concluded with a catch-and-pass from Latrell to Daniel Tupou, who curved around behind the posts to set up his centre for the easiest conversion of the night.

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Two minutes out from the siren, Mitchell made a try assist that was almost as good as his try, collecting the footy from Teddy, breaking out of a wraparound tackle from Marsters, and then booting the ball at high speed to link up with Luke Keary, who was running a hard line to scoop it up and slam over behind the posts. The Roosters spine was now syncing at full throttle, while the perfect fusion of speed, strength and kicking acumen cemented this as Latrell’s game, before both teams headed for the sheds.

The Roosters glimpsed an early chance in the second half when Keary came up with a Cronk bomb, but knocked it on before Aubusson passed it out to Robert Jennings anyway. Brooks almost crashed through the line on the fourth tackle of the next set, but the Chooks survived, only for Luke Garner to prevent Radley sending Teddy through the line when the home team next got their hands on the football. With Liu pinged for a slow peel, the Tigers had their best attacking opportunity in some time, as Thomas Mikaele forced three Roosters to hold him up at the cusp of the in goal area, before Farah darted over out of dummy half to score the second black and gold try.

It was a close one, since Farah lost the footy just after he grounded it, but the call came back as try, reducing the deficit to just six points after Marsters added his second kick of the night. This was exactly the leadership the Tigers needed from Robbie in Benji’s absence, and if they could have scored on the restart they would have really been rolling, but Brooks was compelled to send the Steeden over the sideline on the last, even if he did force the Roosters to start again from deep in their own end.

Tedesco secured a Farah kick a set later, and from hereon in the Roosters scored a point a minute, notching up four spectacular tries in the last half hour of the match. First, Sitili Tupouniua kept his eyes on the footy to successfully contest a Cronk bomb with Mbye, wrapping the Steeden up with his knees before it tumbled through his arms. Dragging in two Tigers defenders, he shifted it across for Latrell to put down his 51st try in the NRL, before adding the extras to bring Sydney City to double the Tigers at 24-12.

Liu took the first hit-up on the restart, making some big post-contact metres, before Teddy showcased some deft footwork to get back into the field of play and avoid a dropout at the end of the next Tigers set. Thompson did brilliantly under the most dangerous floating bomb of the night from Cronk, but once again the Tigers couldn’t really congeal on the last tackle, as Tedesco brought the ball back for a second time in a row against his former club. The Tiges were losing inspiration, while the Roosters were strengthening, as Lindsay Collins tempted Brooks into a ball strip during his first hit of the night.

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Butcher now made the toughest effort of the match so far, receiving the ball ten metres out and crashing his way through a maelstrom of Wests Tigers jerseys before twisting around, and maintaining enough control with his right hand to reach out and slam it to ground right beneath the posts for his first try in the NRL. This was pure footy determination – the kind of sequence destined to be shown in slow motion highlight reels – and felt like the tipping-point in the cascade of tries from the Roosters during this final quarter of the game.

The adrenalin was amped up even further now, and pumped Latrell into intercepting a pass from Farah, tiptoeing at high speed around a low tackle from Garber, and then reprising his sublime run down the left sideline before heading back inside for a hat trick right behind the posts. Once again he converted his own four-pointer, bringing the Roosters to a seemingly unassailable 36-12 scoreline, before joining Cronk, Tupou and Tedesco a couple of minutes later for a bone-shattering trysaver on Moses Mbye.

This aborted Tigers try was the death knell for the home team, sapping their energy as the Roosters ran rings around them to close out their masterclass during the final ten minutes. A minute out from the end Cordner capped and captained the game with a final four-pointer, securing a thirty point lead for Sydney City once Latrell had booted through his last kick. With the final siren, the Tricolors put a difficult couple of weeks of football behind them, and will be pumped to meet the Raiders at Suncorp, while the Tigers will be raring for a much better result against Penrith when they meet a couple of nights before for the second match of Magic Round.

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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