It was a fast-starting game at Suncorp on Sunday afternoon, with three tries in the first ten minutes – two from the Roosters, one from the Raiders – as each team commenced by scoring almost as soon as they got their hands on the football. An offside penalty from Josh Hodgson got Sydney some early field position, which they capitalised on by dragging Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad into touch at the back end of a Luke Keary kick, resulting in the first dropout of the game a mere four minutes in.
Latrell Mitchell made the first great offload of the game on the restart, helping to get the Roosters within the Raiders’ twenty on the first tackle. From there, they shifted the ball to the right, with Cooper Cronk setting up James Tedesco for a superb cut-out pass that sent Matt Ikuvalu across in the right wing. While Mitchell might have faded the conversion away to the night, the Roosters still had a four point lead, and didn’t show any signs of lowering their energy or momentum.
In fact, they consolidated further on the restart, as Tedesco broke through the line, and found himself in open space, with Keary coming up on his inside and Cronk on his outside. Teddy opted for Cronk, sending his halfback across beneath the posts, and setting up Mitchell for the easiest conversion of the night. It had been more than a point a minute for Sydney City, but the Raiders didn’t need much more of an invitation to score, taking advantage of a loose carry from Daniel Tupou and then an offside penalty for Cronk to cross over on their very next set.
At first, they focused on their right edge, where CNK made up for the earlier dropout by nearly plunging through a pack of big Roosters defenders to score beside the posts. Taking advantage of his energy and momentum, the Raiders shifted the play out to the left, where Jack Wighton drew Cronk out his line with a dummy, run and pass, disrupting the Roosters defence enough for Jarrod Croker to slam through a moment later without having to shift the footy out to Nick Cotric on the wing.
Croker missed the conversion, meaning that the Roosters were still a converted try ahead, but Sydney City got a big setback shortly after, when Boyd Cordner was removed from the field with a head knock. A pair of penalty goals now followed, with Croker adding two points on the back of some holding down by Victor Radley, and Mitchell adding another two following a flop from Hodgson – a decision that the Canberra hooker clearly didn’t approve of or agree with.Embed from Getty Images
The next penalty came from Hodgson too – offside – and was compounded by a slow peel from Wighton. The Chooks capitalised as quickly as they had in the opening minutes, with Mitchell crossing over on the left edge on the second tackle. CNK tried to kick the ball out his hand, but his boot ended up making contact with Mitchell’s wrist, resulting in a penalty try, and another six points for the Roosters once Mitchell had converted his own try.
Tupou dropped the ball at the start of the next set, resulting in a brief flare-up between Hodgson and Radley, but a forward pass from Ryan Sutton to Dunamis Lui prevented Canberra from building upon it. A set letter, Ikuvalu stuck a foot over the try line when collecting the high ball to get the Chooks a seven tackle set. It felt almost inevitable when Tedesco broke through the line on the left edge, and sent Mitchell across for another try – a play that seemed to consolidate the Roosters’ last two tries into one perfect combination.
It came at a cost, though, as Mitchell sustained a groin injury while grounding the ball. From the moment he got back to his feet he was in severe discomfort, and could barely walk off the field as Sio Siua Taukeiaho took over the goalkicking duties. Given the situation with Joey Leilua, Jack Bird and James Roberts, the prospect of Mitchell’s injury raised some big questions about the NSW Blues centres in the buildup to Origin, especially given the stellar role he played during last year’s series.
The Roosters’ injury woes weren’t over though, since Tupou was stretchered off the field five minutes later with a neck injury sustained during a big encounter with Michael Oldfield. Sydney City needed a big comeback when they returned from the sheds, and they got it with a Tedesco-like linebreak from Sitili Tupouniua, who made his way down the field before passing across to Teddy himself, who now put down his first four points of the match.
As it turned out, however, these would be the last points of the game for the Roosters, as the Raiders now proceeded to put down three successive tries that could have taken them to golden point if Croker hadn’t lost the footy when attempting to score eight minutes into the second half. During this period, Mitchell had recovered enough to start jogging along the side of the field – no small relief for Roosters and NSW Blues supporters alike.Embed from Getty Images
It was now Canberra’s turn for some injury scares, as Jordan Rapana was sent off with a knee injury that turned out to be a potential PCL issue. The Raiders regathered after Wighton forced a dropout, and then got a fresh set following a slow peel from Mitch Aubusson. CNK now stepped up and showed some leadership, collecting the footy from Sam Williams, bouncing away from Aubusson, and then slamming through Tupouniua right on the line to make it a three converted try deficit once Croker added the extras.
Meanwhile, Mitchell slotted back onto the field with about twenty minutes to go, and took a carry almost immediately, ending the set with a crossfield kick to Joseph Manu, who almost managed to pop the Steeden back into Tedesco, but put a foot on the sideline under some considerable pressure from the Canberra defence. Hodgson was the next to suffer an injury, after he and Ikuvalu knocked knees, but he opted to remain on the park, albeit hobbling some way behind the line for a few plays.
Just as CNK had stepped up several sets before, now Wighton narrowed the gap with a superb grubber that split Tedesco and Manu right on the line. Teddy left the footy for his winger to clean up, but Wighton managed to tap it down with the tips of his fingers just before Manu could get to it. With Croker booting through another curving sideline conversion, the Raiders found themselves only two converted tries behind, with fifteen minutes left on the clock.
They got their last try with ten minutes to go, on the back of a seven tackle set, when Whitehead received an offload from Papalii, and shifted the ball across to Oldfield to score. Once again, Croker added the extras, and with one more converted try the Raiders would have arrived at golden point. But the Roosters dug deep for their defence over the last part of the game, maintaining their six point lead to come away with one of their hardest-won victories of the season so far.
They’ll be looking for a more consistent second half, then, when they return to Suncorp – this time as the away team – to take on the Broncos next week. On the other side of the Steeden, this near-win brings back some bad memories of the Raiders’ form last year, which continually teetered on the verge of being consistently brilliant, so they’ll be keen to make the most of their home ground advantage when they host South Sydney at GIO Stadium on Saturday night.