James Tedesco was still out after being grounded by Maika Sivo last week, and Josh Morris was also out with a minor calf complaint, so Brett Morris stayed on the wing, and Joseph Manu became the Roosters’ third fullback of the year, when they rocked up to host the Dragons at Bankwest on Friday night. Tyson Frizell gave away the first penalty for crowding, Kyle Flanagan kicked on the last, and Matt Dufty only just ground the footy before Angus Crichton slid in. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves took the first hit-up on the dropout, and Ryan Hall followed suit, but Mikaele Ravalawa jammed in on Joseph Manu before he could start a right side sweep. Accordingly, the Roosters headed left on the next play, where Morris slammed over off a silky pair of passes from the halves, and relied on the momentum of a low tackle from Zac Lomax and a high tackle from Jason Saab to carry him over the line, despite a brief question from the Bunker about whether he had committed a double movement. JWH, Hall and Sio Siua Taukeiaho took the first three tackles again on the restart, before Victor Radley made good metres up the middle, and Flanagan kicked to the left edge, but Matt Dufty proved safe under the high ball.
Radley came in for a big tackle on Saab a moment later, but instead totally missed his man, slipping over with no contact, as his right knee buckled and he was led off the field for what looked like a potential ACL injury. Isaac Liu came on earlier than expected, and Corey Norman ended this set with a big kick to try and restore the Dragons’ rhythm. JWH was pinged for a loose carry a minute later, although this would have been a viable Captain’s Challenge, since the replay suggested that he had regathered the footy – just – after it span out of his hands with three in the tackle. However, St. George didn’t do much with their advantage, since Daniel Tupou was pretty comfortable under the kick, even alongside the huge height of Saab, Trent Merrin managed a good offload to Norman on the next Dragons set, and the visitors amped up their defence on the Roosters’ next final play, when Flanagan’s kick bent to the left edge, and Morris sent it back to JWH, who popped a harbour bridge kick across Liu to Tupou, only for the Giraffe to kick it into touch under pressure from Lomax.Embed from Getty Images
With Teddy and Morris off the field, the Roosters forced to reconfigure in Radley’s absence, and only four points on the boards, the Dragons had more of a shot here than the early stats might have suggested. Frizell came close at the end of the next set, collecting a wide ball from Dufty and nearly smashing through four Dragons on the left edge, but the Chooks were pretty staunch in defence too, while Boyd Cordner answered Merrin with a terrific offload off the ground to Taukeiaho three plays later. Sydney City were also more consistent, capitalizing on the Dragons’ failure to make a sufficient kick chase on Tupou by scoring their next set a moment later. Manu now stepped into the spotlight as fullback, bombing to the left corner, and then running forward to catch the footy on the full, before sending a one-handed, no-look flick pass back to JWH, who made an equally beautiful catch, collecting the Steeden in his own right hand before slamming down beside the posts. This was one of the most sublime tries all year, as the footy traced a parabolic arc from one right hand to the other, capturing Manu’s almost preternatural prescience of his prop running up on his inside.
Radley’s ACL was now confirmed, ruling him out for the season, while the Dragons denied the Roosters a dropout, thanks to a huge one-man push from Cameron McInnes, who responded to Manu’s individual effort by spearheading a massive pack effort to drive Liu back in goal after he allowed a collecting a low grubber from Norman. The Tricolours cleaned up Tyrell Fuimaono on the last, but the Dragons were starting to make headway, especially when Sydney City suffered another season-ending ACL injury – this time from Sam Verrills, who followed in his no. 9’s footsteps by also slipping off the right boot before contact. Whereas Radley was able to limp off the field, Verrills had to be carried off, reducing the Roosters to fifteen men as Jake Friend subbed on. This was a pretty unprecedented hit – two ACLs in the first stanza – and a dramatic sequel to the Sea Eagles losing Walker, Parker and Turbo last week against Canberra. At the end of this same set, JWH was penalised for now being square at marker – a big shift in a relatively error-free game – and the Dragons chose to tap and go, with Paul Vaughan and Tyson Frizell taking the first hit-ups to consolidate their best burst of field position in some time.Embed from Getty Images
Everything came together on the next play, when Dufty intensified the cut-out pass he’d sent out to Frizell a few sets before, shooting the ball faster and straighter – a bullet pass – to put Ravalawa across in the left corner, catching Hall ten metres in field with nobody to defend. Lomax missed the conversion, but scored the next try three minutes later, thanks to a pair of uncharacteristic errors from Tupou and Manu. In its own way, this was just as spectacular as Manu and JWH’s combination, as Lomax caught a bullet pass from Dufty on the other side of the field, bobbled the ball in the air, somehow regathered it at speed, and survived a bone-rattling tackle from Manu on the line to slam down the next four points for St. George. This time Lomax added the extras, levelling the scoreline to 10-10, while news emerged that Verrills had also suffered an ACL injury, meaning two Roosters were now out for the season in the space of thirty minutes. Cordner was the next to go down, after a nasty head clash with JWH after a combined tackle on Lomax, and while he remained on his park, the severity of the gash and the sheer amount of blood streaming down his face was a powerful image for a Roosters outfit that had been peculiarly hard hit by the contest so far.
Four minutes back from the break, Manu received a one-handed offload, storming through the line and shifting the footy into one hand himself, but without getting the flick pass back to Luke Keary, who would have scored beneath the posts if his fullback had timed it right. This was a big letoff for the Dragons – and they got a bigger one on the next play, when the Roosters seemed to draw blood when Tupou offloaded to Morris to speed up the left edge of the field, where he managed a superb kick at speed back inside to Keary. Adam Clune got to the ball first, but couldn’t clean it up, leaving it bouncing in front of the posts for Keary to pop up from the ground to Flanagan, who slammed over for what would have been a third try if Morris hadn’t been called offside at the very start of the play. This was agonising for the Roosters, and Morris in particular, who looked particularly glum as Lomax booted through the penalty kick to put the Red V ahead on the board for the first time all night, as the Dragons effectively managed an eight-point turnaround that might just win them the game if they played their cards right.Embed from Getty Images
Two tackles into the restart Crichton was pinged for a strip, and Korbin Sims drew in four defenders on the next play, before the Red V got a rare six again call – for this game – putting them in good position to capitalise on the Roosters’ two misses. Josh Kerr took a big run in front of the posts, and McInnes followed suit, before Clune grubbered on the last, forcing Hall to bump the Steeden into touch for a goal line dropout. This was the easily the most significant bout of field position all night for St. George, both in terms of how quickly it accumulated and where it occurred in the game, so it was a big shift in momentum when the Bunker revised the call to deem it a knock-on in goal from Euan Aitken. The Roosters regained some mojo with a sequence of big runs up the middle, including an impressive carry from Lindsay Collins, and Morris got some closure by collecting a brilliant kick from Keary to score in the left corner after Saab overread the play. Full credit has to go to Flanagan, too, who scooped up the ball on the right edge to start the sweep that got Keary possession in the first place, even if his conversion attempt was redolent of some of Nathan Cleary’s odder kicks last night – a low driving effort that barely looked set to clear the crossbars when it careened away from the posts at the last minute.
JWH, Hall, Collins and Taukeiaho now reprised their last set with strong carries up the middle, and Flanagan bombed to the right, but Ravalawa was safe, and the Dragons were let off the hook once again. The Roosters got their next shot at points with what initially looked like the start of a long-range try for Norman, who scooped up the footy when Keary’s kick ricocheted off the St. George defence, and got set to storm down the field, only for Frizell to be called out for an accidental offside. Sydney City chose to tap and go, as Hall only just cleaned up a high ball from Flanagan on the right wing, and Keary responded with a wide ball to Tupou on the left wing that was a bit too low to work as a plausible try assist. Once more, the Roosters headed right, where Clune made a terrific trysaver on Crichton, but the Chooks got the ball back pretty quickly after McInnes put it down on play two. This time Aitken held up Crichton on the Roosters’ right edge, but Taukaieho was too much for the Dragons’ defence to prevent storming over the line, only for the replay to ratify Grant Atkins’ call of no try by showing that Jackson Ford had made a mammoth to get his hand beneath the Steeden, and prevent Tauekiaho from scoring, after just trotting onto the park.Embed from Getty Images
Despite the accumulation of Sydney field position, the Dragons were starting to recoup some momentum in defence – and they continued by forcing a knock-on from Hall beneath the next big high ball, costing the ex-Super League player a shot at his first NRL try. With seven tackles to play with, the Red V needed to score on this next set, so it was a big blow when McInnes passed back to Crichton after poking his nose through the line. The Chooks got six again on the next play, and sent the footy through about ten hands following an offload from Sitili Tupouniua on the third tackle, but the Dragons stayed strong, cleaning up Crichton after he collected Keary’s kick on the right edge. Still, the aborted seven tackle set had dented their rhythm, and there was only so long that they could hold out the Roosters, who shortly made good both on Keary’s superb organisation and their numerous opportunities in front of the uprights. Receiving the Steeden twenty-two metres out, Keary simply split the Dragons’ defence, sliding past Blake Lawrie to cruise beneath the crossbars to notch up another six points for the Tricolours once Flanagan booted through the next conversion.
St. George got their last major chance with six minutes to go, when Lomax caught the Steeden clean in the air at the end of a Norman kick, and looked set to score, only for Morris to wrap himself around and tumble along the ground with him to prevent the try. A minute later, Morris went from trysaver to tryscorer, outleaping the much taller Saab to catch a Keary kick on the full, and slam down the tenth hat trick of his career in the left corner, bringing the Tricolours to a 26-12 lead when Flanagan booted through the extras. In its own way, this was just as spectacular a performance from Morris as his stint in the fullback jersey against the Broncos a couple of weeks before, as the Roosters continue to prove why they may just be the best NRL team of the century, since they seemed as dominant as ever here despite being without their star fullback, a key winger, and despite losing two players for the season during the first forty minutes. They’ll be looking to bring all that energy to bear on a considerably more challenging match against the Storm next Thursday, while the Dragons will want to channel their best moments tonight when they meet the Dragons on Friday.