ROUND 16: Sydney Roosters v. Brisbane Broncos (Sydney Cricket Ground, 28/8/20)

The Broncos had a big challenge on their hands when they rocked up to play the Roosters at the SCG on Friday night. Not only had their 0-59 loss to the Tricolours in Round 4 marked the start of their catastrophic string of losses, but the Chooks were starting to look like the 2019 premiers again with Boyd Cordner and Daniel Tupou back on the park. Conversely, Sean O’Sullivan had returned for the first time in eleven months, filling in for Anthony Milford at halfback – a vulnerable spot for a Brisbane outfit that hadn’t won in New South Wales since Round 16 last year.

Still, the Roosters took the first quarter to warm up, at least in terms of point scoring, as Jared Waerea-Hargreaves took the first run, and his men made good metres on the first set, only for Richie Kennar to prove safe behind the kick, and the Broncos to get the first restart two tackles later. It felt almost inevitable when Brisbane gave up this early field position with an error – a blatant forward pass from O’Sullivan to Jordan Kahu – as David Fifita took out his team’s frustration with an illegal strip that granted Sydney City their first big attacking chance.

JWH looked for an offload on the second play, but got one better, holding on for Joe Ofahengaue long enough for the Tricolours to get six again. They recommenced with a right sweep that would have produced points if Kahu hadn’t made a last-ditch low tackle on Manu, but James Tedesco steadied the ship on play two, drifting across the defence and triple-pumping, before popping a short ball across to Sitili Tupouniua.

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This would prove to be a huge night for the wiry second-rower, who scored his first try by taking advantage of a poor defensive read from Rhys Kennedy to barge through a low tackle from Patrick Carrigan, using the Brisbane captain as fulcrum as he reached out the Steeden three metres from the line. Kyle Flanagan added the extras but a knock-on from JWH prevented the Chooks making too much of the restart – a letoff that seemed to galvanise Brisbane, who now executed their fastest set so far.

Tupou was magnificent as always beneath the high ball, but missed a pass from Josh Morris a play later. While Carrigan coughed it up just as quickly into a combined tackle from JWH and Jake Friend, he sent it upstairs immediately for the first Captain’s Challenge. For a moment, JWH looked like he’d made up for the knock-on that produced this Brisbane field position in the first place, so when the Challenge was ratified he had even more to recoup, especially when Brisbane got another burst with an offside error from Friend.

The visitors had barely resumed play when Friend was pinged again, this time for holding down, so it was a big letoff for the Roosters – a letoff you wouldn’t have thought they’d need – when O’Sullivan knocked it on a moment later. Kennar tapped back the next high ball, and while the Roosters recovered it, and got six again to boot, they continued with the same strange messiness of their last string of penalties, as Hutchison knocked a Taukeiaho pass through the legs of Josh Morris.

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Whether because their returning players hadn’t synced up again yet, or because they were expecting a landslide over Brisbane, their only really convincing play had been Teddy’s try assist for Tupouniua, as they now conceded the first dropout of the night when Kotoni Staggs slammed Teddy over the dead ball line at the back end of a Tom Dearden kick. JWH and Friend’s nightmare start continued on the first play, when Jared collided with Jake, bumping his head into Ofahengaue’s shoulder, and then sprayed some sharp words at Adam Gee when Ofa put his knee down on Friend’s head.

The Brisbane prop was put on report, but JWH was still remonstrated by Gee, while Friend had to sub off for an HIA, leaving room for Freddy Lussick to add to last week’s ten minutes against the Tigers. The Roosters had to regather here and reassert their dominance – and that’s just they did, taking a series of big hits that got them another restart and progressively tired out the Brisbane front line. By the time Isaac Liu broke through, he could almost walk over Ofahengaue and Corey Paix as he set up Flanagan for an easy conversion beneath the posts.

The Roosters reset the pace on the next set, as JWH and Lussick started with a huge hit on Kahu, inducing O’Sullivan to kick the ball dead to get his men some breathing-space before Sydney City went on the attack again. Kennedy prevented a Taukeiaho offload mideay through the next set, but Darius Boyd couldn’t contend with a rapid run and grubber from Teddy down the right edge, as the dew settled in at the SCG and the Chooks got in place for their first dropout.

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Manu collected the kick about thirty metres out, Taukeiaho straightened the play, Liu brought the ball within the ten, and Flanagan risked a rare run at the line – a risk that didn’t come off, since he botched the pass before the Broncos got another boost with an offside error from Lussick. This sudden anticlimax said a lot about the Roosters’ inability to consolidate during this first quarter of the game, since they should have been more than twelve ahead given the talent they had on the park.

Yet perhaps this frustration worked in their favour, since it finally got them into first gear on the following sent, when JWH sent the footy through Flanagan to Tupouniua, who bumped off O’ Sullivan, danced over Fifita and popped it back to his halfback. From there, Flanno popped a short ball across for Teddy, who crossed over untouched for his first try in two and half months – just the rallying-point that Sydney City needed as Flanagan added the extras, and Friend returned to the sideline after failing his HIA.

JWH looked monstrous on the restart, and the Chooks got six more a tackle later, settling into a good grove and luxuriating in their elasticity as they ferried the footy from one side of the field to the other. Teddy showcased some sublime footwork on the right edge on play four, dodging and weaving through four or five defenders, and once again his dexterity paid dividends from Tupouniua, who had fed the footy to his fullback in the first place, and now collected a subsequent short ball from Flanagan to leap over Fifita and score.

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With another Flanagan conversion the Roosters were 24-0 – more like the scoreline you’d expect here, about a point per minute – as the Broncos crowded in to prevent JWH giving his men the same boost on the first tackle of the restart. Liu compensated with a brilliant run a tackle later, but Herbie Farnworth was safe under the high ball, as Brisbane got stuck into a comeback that had to start with a big one-man effort.

Kotoni Staggs provided it eight minutes out from the break, scooping up a rusty offload from Boyd Cordner and keeping it steady in his right hand as he outpaced Josh Morris to crash over untouched, converting his own try a moment later. Nevertheless, the Roosters bounced back after the break with two incredible tries, and one incredible near-try. The forty-four minute Morris drought was broken four minutes in, when Hutchison stormed up the left edge and offloaded through Cordner for Josh to stroll past Farnworth in the corner.

This was both a tough and calm play, as the sequence actually seemed to decelerate in the wake of Boyd’s second-phase effort, so assured were he and his wingman of the try. The next four points came off a similar left side effort, as Josh Morris offloaded on the ground for Flanagan, who got it back outside to Tupou to mark his return with four points. Yet the almost-try was arguably even more spectacular than both these efforts, as Tupou kicked from the sideline, Flanagan got a boot to it again seven metres out, and Boyd managed to collect in his right hand and gather it in both hands as the Sydney City chase slammed on him from all angles.

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Boyd didn’t have time to gather the Steeden into his chest before Manu stripped it out his arms at speed, for what would have been one of the greatest tries of the year for Lussick if his no. 5 hadn’t knocked on in the process. The Roosters regathered a bit of headway with a Captain’s Challenge a few minutes later, when they successfully insisted that a supposed knock-on from Flanagan had simply been a Steeden off the shoulder – a big loss for Brisbane, who had received six again just before Friend sent the play upstairs.

For a moment it looked like Sydney City would capitalise immediately on this reversal with their next dropout, but a pair of ruck infringements from Poasa Faamausili and Drew Hutchison set up Brisbane for their second four-pointer. It came from Fifita, who made the best use of the slippery conditions of any tryscorer so far, collecting a short ball from O’Sullivan, and then eluding Lindsay Collins before twisting and spinning through Hutchison to get the footy down.

A few more tries here and the Broncos would have been back in the game, but the Chooks punched back immediately, thanks to a terrific flick pass from Lussick – knocked back by Brodie Croft, and scooped up by Nat Butcher, who fended off Staggs and pivoted away from Fifita to go it alone, slamming over beneath the posts to set up Flanagan for his easiest kick of the night. The Chooks had now reached forty points, and didn’t show any signs of slowing down, getting their next surge when the Broncos wasted their Captain’s Challenge trying to contest an error in the play-the-ball from Tom Dearden.

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The Chooks seemed to be lighter than air after their next six again – especially Tedesco, who sent Josh Morris dodging and weaving through the defence with the best tap-on of his career, a gentle brush of the right hand that split the difference between volleyball and ballet. Two minutes later, the Roosters cracked the half century, this time with another assist from Teddy, who completed a left sweep with a cut-out pass to Tupou, who followed Morris with a double.

These two tries were all timing, and so effortless in their timing that it was more like watching a training run, as the Brisbane defence evaporated before their eyes. Flanagan added the extras and Brett Morris put one down a minute out from the siren, collecting a harbour bridge ball from Teddy, who had himself collected a Tupouniua offload, bringing the Tricolours to a staggering 58-12 win once the final conversion sailed through the posts.

In any other contest, this would feel historic, but after their 59-0 victory over Brisbane earlier in the year, and given the Broncos’ recent performance, this was about where you’d hope the form team in the competition would be after eighty minutes of football. They can’t afford to get complacent, then, when they take on the Raiders in Canberra next Saturday night, while the Broncos have another big challenge in their hands when they take on a scintillating Penrith outfit in Suncorp once again in a week’s time.

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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