The third best team in the competition were as dominant as you’d expect them to be against the bottom team in the competition when the Roosters hosted the Bulldogs at the SCG on Monday afternoon. For the first couple of sets, the Dogs were only just holding on, as Daniel Tupou almost broke into space under an early high ball, only to be pulled back by Raymond Faitala-Mariner, and Nick Meaney was almost dragged into touch after cleaning up the football at the end of the next set.
Yet while the Roosters would eventually score seven tries to the Bulldogs’ two, it took them longer to get going than might have been predicted, as Canterbury ground in for an especially courageous opening half. The visitors got the first penalty of the game, after Angus Crichton was pinged for lying in the ruck, and while the Chooks might have responded with a pair of huge hits from Victor Radley and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Crichton contributed a second penalty almost immediately.
For a second, it looked as if Canterbury might score the first try of the game, but their field position came to nothing when they failed to chase down a fairly average kick from Fa’amanu Brown, allowing Joseph Manu to circle around the footy halfway into the in goal area, and simply wait for it to cross over the dead ball line. The Roosters now had the first seven tackle set of the game, and were in the Dogs’ twenty by the third tackle, where Cooper Cronk ended the set with a crossfield chip.
Tupou read the play perfectly, leaping up over Nick Meaney and Will Hopoate to secure the Steeden, before popping it out to Latrell Mitchell, who had crept up in the tiny space still open on the wing, and was perfectly poised and positioned to score. It was exactly the kind of quick thinking, and support effort, that had been lacking from Latrell’s Origin 1 performance, making this a cathartic moment for Blues fans as much as Roosters supporters, even if he didn’t manage the sideline conversion.
Nevertheless, the Chooks got their six point lead soon after, when a penalty from Aiden Tolman right in front of the posts got Sydney City the first two-pointer of the night. Isaac Liu followed up with two big runs on the next set, on the first and third tackle, but Dallin Watene Zelezniak responded with his first big gesture in Bulldogs colours, catching Drew Hutchison’s kick on the full and ferrying it rapidly back down the field. Jeremy Marshall-King followed up with a near-linebreak and a linebreak, but they didn’t produce points, thanks to a terrific chase and tackle from Cronk.Embed from Getty Images
By this stage, it was pretty surprising that the Roosters hadn’t put more points on the board, given the enormous disparity between the two teams on the ladder. Sydney City made a concerted effort to muscle up, starting with a huge double tackle from Mitchell on Kieran Foran, and a great recovery from Manu after a Canterbury kick bounced dangerously in the corner of the field. Moments later, Manu dragged DWZ over the sideline, and while the ex-Panther managed to send the Steeden back in to Foran, Boyd Cordner responded with the biggest hit of the night so far.
From the moment the Steeden was rattled out of Foran’s grasp, the Roosters felt set to score, starting with a run from Hall that laid the foundation for their next sequence of attack. At first they drifted left, but they were back on their right edge by the third tackle, where Manu capped off his brilliant effort over the last five minutes by bursting through Nu Brown and Reimis Smith to get the football to ground. At first, it was a call of no try, but the Bunker deemed that momentum had carried Manu over the line, and that no second movement had occurred, giving him his first try against the Dogs.
Once again, Mitchell faded the conversion away to the left, but the Roosters didn’t have much time to feel frustrated, with Nat Butcher setting up their next try moments later, thanks to a left foot pivot that allowed him to get away from JMK and travel about twenty metres, before opting for a short ball to Sitili Tupouniua right on the line. Surfing Butcher’s momentum, Tupouniua was able to slam straight through Marcelo Montoya, before dashing over the last line of Canterbury defence, to put down another four points seconds after he had trotted onto the field.
The sheer speed of the try, and the speed with which it followed the last try, seemed like a sign that the Roosters were resetting their game, especially once Mitchell slotted through his first conversion of the evening. Yet Hopoate scored just as quickly, as the game finally started to accelerate in the last ten minutes before half time. As with the Roosters’ opening try, the points came at the back of the high ball, which Montoya knocked backwards, setting up a loping shift to the right that saw the footy move through Foran before Hopoate took control on the edge of the field.
As the Steeden moved from hand to hand, the Roosters seemed to grow more sluggish, as if confident that the Dogs would never be able to make good on Montoya’s effort. Similarly, Canterbury seemed to grow more and more relaxed with the football, making it doubly surprising when Hoppa suddenly accelerated the play, briefly dummying to Meaney before ploughing through the Sydney City defence, as both Mitchell and Manu were caught napping, arriving just a bit too late to prevent the Bulldogs scoring their first four points.Embed from Getty Images
An error and then some verbal dissent from Cordner got the Chooks their first incomplete set of the night a few minutes later, but Cordner made up for it by reprising his earlier tackle on Foran – this time with a massive hit-up right on the the line that prevented the Dogs narrowing the scoreline to a mere six point (and possibly a four-point) deficit. Like the previous effort on Foran, it was a captain’s tackle, an affirmation that Cordner’s penalty was a mere glitch on the game, and an assurance to his team that they could come back big after the break.
That’s just what they did, with Hutchison crashing over a couple of minutes into the second half, as if Cordner’s tackle on Foran had only happened a couple of minutes earlier. To make it even better, this try pretty much replicated the Roosters’ opening try – a crossfield kick from Cronk, a catch in the air from Tupou, and then a pass out to the wing, where Hopoate and Meaney were the casualties once again, powerless to prevent Hutchison from keeping his elbow in the air to avoid a double movement before stretching out his left arm to slam the Steeden to ground.
The game started to intensify again shortly after, as Sauaso Sue was put on report for a late shot on Cronk, and DWZ was led off the field after his left eye closed up immediately following a tackle on Sio Siua Taukeiaho. Mitchell took the two on the back of Sue’s effort, putting the Roosters three converted tries ahead, before finding some open space on the left edge about twenty minutes in, fending off Foran and coming very close to a linebreak, only to offload the footy straight to Rhyse Martin.
While Mitchell’s momentum didn’t produce points then and there, the adrenalin continued to escalate, with Radley and Harawira-Naera being pinged successively for dangerous tackles. The Dogs got a chance when a JMK grubber ricocheted unexpectedly off the Sydney defence, but when Jackson got up from grounding it he found himself penalised for being offside downtown, rather than congratulated for a second Canterbury try.
To make matters worse, the Roosters scored almost immediately, thanks to a right sweep that ended with Manu double-pumping to dishevel Harawira-Naera before popping the footy out to Mitchell on the wing. Taking the line at speed, Latrell barely registered Meaney, who’d had a bit of a rough night following the reconfiguration of the Bulldogs backline in the wake of DWZ’s arrival, as well as Hopoate’s movement to the fullback position in the wake of DWZ’s removal from the field.Embed from Getty Images
Ten minutes out from the end, Jackson was penalised for a second effort on the last tackle of a particularly promising Roosters set. Not surprisingly, the Tricolors chose to tap and go instead of taking the two – a decision that paid dividends almost immediately, as Liu barged over the line to the left of the posts for a run that was equal parts speed and strength, disposing of both Martin and Jackson before slamming down another four points for the home team.
Four minutes later, Manu cemented himself as the best player on the field this evening, collecting the footy ten metres out from the chalk, before muscling his way into a tackle form Foran and brushing Harawira-Naera out of the way for the last Sydney City try of the night. While Harawira-Naera got a penalty try three minutes out from the end, the scoreline clearly reflected the two teams’ respective positions on the ladder, gaining the Roosters their fifth straight win over the Bulldogs.
The win was all the more impressive in that James Tedesco was absent from the field, although Mitchell’s performance wasn’t quite consistent enough to counter the escalating rumours about his absence from the Blues selection for Origin 2 – rumours that started to coalesce into announcements during the last ten minutes of the game. Sydney will be keen to rally around Mitchell, then, when they travel to Adelaide Oval to take on the Storm after Origin, while the Dogs will be looking for a better result when they host the Sharks at ANZ in two weeks.