Boyd Cordner was out with a head knock at training when the Warriors hosted the Roosters at Central Coast Stadium on Saturday afternoon, while New Zealand were coming off a devastating 36-point loss to the Sharks last weekend. Both teams went set for set for a few minutes, before Kodi Nikorima applied the first real pressure with a soaring bomb. Combined with a terrific chase from Karl Lawton, James Tedesco only just gathered the football on the line, while Kyle Flanagan was forced to kick from the Roosters’ thirty on the last. The Warriors got the first restart on their next set, and swept left on the third play, where Brett Morris cleaned up Peta Hiku, before Blake Green kicked from the other side of the field. In one seamless sequence, Eliesa Katoa tapped the ball back to Nikorima, Nikorima popped it across to Hiku, and Hiku caught it on the ground to send Ken Maumalo across for the first try of the afternoon – a bittersweet sight, given that the big winger will be returning to New Zealand next week. New Zealand got the first penalty four tackles into the restart, following a ball strip from Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, who was called offside two plays later, giving the Warriors the chance to make it an eight point lead.
They chose to tap and go, but Nikorima put down the next pass, looking up too quickly after glimpsing some space on his outside edge. The Roosters now had the scrum feed, but JWH conceded his third penalty with a dangerous tackle, although once again the visitors failed to capitalise on augmented field position, with Jazz Tevaga now losing the footy. Building on those two missed opportunities, the Roosters got their best burst of field position a few minutes later, thanks in part to a set restart, but the Warriors responded with their two best trysavers all season. The first came when Luke Keary sent Sitili Tupouniua through the line, only for Tohu Harris to stop him at high speed, putting his hand beneath the tip of the ball and forcing Sitili to pivot over him rather than make contact with the grass. The Roosters got a restart on the next play, and Sio Siua Taukeiaho responded with an epic charge beneath the posts, slamming past Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, and then twisting and spinning through Jack Hetherington and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, who couldn’t stop him getting over the line. Cometh the hour cometh the man, and Tevaga stormed in as last line of defence, stripping the ball from the big prop before JWH conceded his fourth consecutive penalty for a high hit.Embed from Getty Images
This bout of field position couldn’t have turned out worse for the Chooks, although they got a chance to reprise their attack when they received another restart on their next set. Teddy double pumped to Josh Morris on the left edge, where David Fusitua was in prime position to intercept the pass, but instead played the man over the ball, knocking on in the process and gifting Sydney City the scrum feed from the ten. In yet another turnaround, Taukaieho lost the ball on play two, allowing Nikorima to scoop it up and get his men to the halfway line by the first tackle. Green chipped to the right on the last, Fusitua knocked it back, and Adam Pompey picked it up, drifted across the try line and drew in five Roosters to prevent him scoring. In the process, he coughed up the footy, but even then Teddy was unable to bring it back into the field of play, giving the Warriors the first dropout of the match. Harris took the first carry after knocking the ball back, and the visitors then swept from left to right, but the Roosters were starting to regather, starting with Flanagan collecting a low fast kick from Green right in front of the posts, and withstanding the chase to remain in play.
The Chooks got their first penalty a moment later, following a high hit from Hetherington on Morris, and scored at the end of the next set, when Tupouniua got his try after all. This was one of the most unusual – and in some ways, one of the most questionable – tries in weeks, since it came after Matt Ikuvalu knocked Fusitua away from Keary’s high ball, in a move that was deemed to be legitimate by the Bunker,. From there, Tupouniua showcased some of the silkiest ball handling of his career, allowing the Steeden to ricochet off his ankle, before scooping it up and then putting it down in the midst of a sea of Warriors. With Flanagan slotting the extras through the posts, the game was locked up at 6-6, and from here descended into a staccato, stop-and-start motion as the last ten minutes arrived. Eight minutes out, there was another complicated sequence on the try line that ended with Lindsay Collins penalised for an offside error that forced Fusitua to ground the ball in goal, only for Josh Morris to steal the ball back from Fusitua a moment later. The Warriors now started to wane, so it was a big turnaround when Katoa collected a Nikorima kick and popped it across to Maumalo, who kicked again and converged on the footy with his five-eighth.Embed from Getty Images
With Tedesco still in backplay, Keary had to make the clutch play of the night to ground the footy in goal, but this was too much momentum for the Warriors not to score on the dropout, which started with a brief pause when Tupouniua copped a thumb in the eye from one of his team mates. A tackle later, Nikorima sent the Steeden out to Katoa to cross over on the left edge, for what was initially called no try, only for the replay to show that the big second-rower had managed to maintain possession after slamming through Joseph Manu and coming to ground beneath a pile of Roosters jerseys. This time around Pompey missed the conversion, while the second stanza started with the same set-for-set rhythm as the first, with both teams maintaining the same completion rate, and by now enjoying exactly 50% of possession each, until Tupouniua lost the footy five minutes in. This was a big boost for the Warriors, especially after Jake Friend had got away with a blatant forward pass shortly before, but despite a deft offload from Harris to Green, the set kind of fizzled, and the game momentarily resumed the same to-and-fro momentum after Brett Morris collected the kick on the full, until Pompey hesitated as Tedesco was collecting the next high ball, and ended up tackling him in the air, conceding the first penalty since the teams had returned from the break.
This marked the beginning of a dominant period for the Roosters, starting with a scintillating sequence in which Keary sent a cut-out pass to Teddy, who responded with an even wider ball to Manu. Realising he was trapped on the wing, Manu flicked the footy back to Josh Morris, who accelerated through a pack defence and tempted an illegal strip from Hiku. The Warriors went for a Captain’s Challenge, but were denied, despite the fact that Morris seemed to have marginally extended his hand for an offload – a clear contradiction to the call on Waqa Blake against Marty Taupau last week. Before they could even take out their frustration through defence, however, Keary grubbered and took advantage of a nice deflection off Katoa to chase down the ball and score, putting the Roosters ahead for the first time all afternoon once Flanagan added the conversion. You might have thought the speed and concision of this try would have produced a torrent of Sydney City points, but the Warriors amped up their defence, taking big hit after big hit, and shutting out the Roosters until the immediate impact of Keary’s try had started to dissipate.Embed from Getty Images
Still, the Warriors started to decline after Green took a gamble with a 40/20 kick on the second play, but ended up with a terrible bounce that allowed Tedesco to catch it at speed and storm back down field. Ever the organiser, Green did better with the next kick, booting it over the sideline past Ikuvalu to get his men some much-needed breathing-space as they packed the scrum, but the Roosters got the ball back when Tevaga was pinged for not being square at marker – and then a fresh burst of field position when Hiku knocked down a Flanagan pass to prevent Teddy getting the footy for a three-on-one overlap out on the right wing. Teddy took the next hit-up, Lam twisted-and-spun out of dummy half, Aubusson barged into Blair, Liu straightened the play in front of the posts, and Lam sent a cut-out pass for Keary to set up a dropout after Maumalo was forced to take his kick out of play. This was now the biggest accumulation of field position for either team, so the Roosters had to score here or else concede the momentum back to the Warriors. Keary made good metres up the left edge on play two, and Manu contributed a terrific catch-and-pass to conclude a right sweep a tackle later, but RTS cleaned up in the kick right in front of the posts, concluding a massive defensive sequence for New Zealand.
Given all that strength in defence, it was frustrating to see the Warriors let through Sydney a few minutes later. The entree came with some huge contact between Hetherington and JWH, and the main course saw Manu swerve away from Nikorima and slam through two defenders to score, putting the Tricolours eight points ahead once Flanagan added his third conversion of the night. After keeping the Chooks out for four consecutive sets – and after containing Teddy better than most other teams in the competition – it all came down to a simple miss from Nikorima, since neither team would score again over the rest of the game, making this final Sydney City try the last critical consolidation point. Teddy had one last burst up the right side three minutes out from the break, but the scoreline remained at 10-18 after Taukeiaho was held up for the second time – the Roosters’ last major tryscoring opportunity. Despite the loss, though, this was a pretty solid game from the Warriors, who only came away only eigt points behind an outfit eight rungs above them on the ladder, so they’ll be looking to build further on that energy when they meet the Tigers at the SCG. On the other side of the Steeden, this wasn’t the win margin that most Roosters fans would have been expecting, so the Tricolours will be keen for a big one when they host the Titans next week.