ROUND 18: Sydney Roosters v. Newcastle Knights (Sydney Cricket Ground, 12/9/20)

The Roosters put in another dominant performance when they hosted Newcastle at the SCG on Saturday night, securing their third rung of the NRL ladder with a decimating thirty-point win. Newcastle got a restart on their first set but James Tedesco was more than capable of containing the kick from Mitchell Pearce, while the Tricolours consolidated immediately with a terrific run from Jake Friend on the third and a linebreak from Boyd Cordner on the fourth.

Collecting the footy from Luke Keary, the captain could probably have scored himself but played it safe with a short ball out to Josh Morris for the first four points. Despite Ashley Klein calling no try, the replay showed that Morris had just maintained possession with his left arm, making it a six point lead once Kyle Flanagan’s kick bounced off the right post and over the crossbar.

The Roosters made good headway for the first couple of tackles on the restart, only to lose momentum when the game paused for Josh Morris to be examined followed a hard hit from David Klemmer. They got to their final kick but didn’t do much with the second half of the set, and while Daniel Tupou leaped five metres into the air to catch the next Mason Lino bomb, a knock-on from Teddy beneath Luke Keary’s subsequent kick prevented them getting back into their splendid opening groove then and there.

This was a good lull for the Knight to start scoring, and Daniel Saifiti set them up with a great offload on play four of the next set, starting a rapid left sweep that saw Edrick Lee almost find space on the left edge, before Pearce kicked back to the other side on the last, where Cordner was pinged for an escort. Newcastle now had their first real attacking chance, as Klemmer took the first hit-up, Jacob Saifiti followed in his steps, Pearce tried to bust through beneath the posts, and Kurt Mann drew in Cordner, Isaac Liu and Angus Crichton on the fourth.

Yet all this acceleration came to nothing when Aiden Guerra put down a tricky pass from Mann, setting up the Tricolours for their next period of consolidation. Tupou had a solid pack to contend with on the first play, as did Joseph Manu on the second, and for a moment this looked set to be Newcastle’s best defence all night. That all changed when the Chooks got a restart on play three, starting their next set at the Knights’ thirty, and making more and more metres up the middle with each fresh tackle.

Finally Keary kicked for the corner, where Tex Hoy scooped it up, but this was still a momentum-builder for the Roosters, who had proved they could simply barge their way up field no matter what Newcastle threw at them. Again, Crichton glimpsed space midway through the next set, laying the platform for Liu to accelerate to four metres out, where Flanagan would have assisted Morris out on the wing if Lino and Enari Tuala hadn’t converged to shut him down.

Everything came together for the Roosters on the next set, when Keary found space on the left edge and lobbed the Steeden with his right hand out to Tupou, who danced down the sideline, bumped off Manu, and flew over the chalk for another four points. Flanno added another superb sideline conversion to make it two from two, and this time the Chooks enjoyed a full-blooded restart, with Crichton making his way to the forty on the first play, and Tupou and Keary reversing roles, as the Giraffe made his way along the sideline and sent the ball back via Teddy to his five-eighth.

This wasn’t the best pass from Tupou, but a brilliant take from the star no. 1, who reached back a hand to guide and recover the footy as it seemed set to curve away from him, and then pivoted it across to Keary to cross over untouched. Flanagan made it three off the right boot as the Roosters got another restart, and while Newcastle survived, and got their first touch of the football in five minutes, they also conceded their first penalty a minute later, when Jacob Saifiti was pinged for lying in the ruck.

Once again the Roosters consolidated, as Tedesco got an offload out to Brett Morris, who sprinted up the right side, and very nearly made it to the corner, only to run into a huge tackle from Edrick Lee. Even then, B-Moz shot the ball back inside before bumping into touch, and although it was contained by the Knights, a cough-up from Jacob Saifiti on the next set turned out to the last straw.

This was the easiest four-pointer for the Roosters all night, as Manu collected the footy from Friend and simply ran through Tex Hoy without a frontrower in sight, before Flanagan sent yet another conversion through the posts. With such an indictment on their defence, the Knights had to step up and either pull a try out of nowhere or showcase a big one-man effort to get themselves on the board.

As it turned out, they managed both, although not without another scare – a near-try for Corner, who chased down a grubber from Friend, who in turn had got in position off a quick play-the-ball from Morris. For the second time in the game the Bunker reversed a call, since this was sent upstairs as a try, only for the replay to show that Cordner had bounced the ball instead of properly grounding it – all the more frustrating for the Tricolours in that their captain now had to leave the park for an HIA after his head hit the turf due to a tough effort up the back from Starford To’a.

Nat Butcher trotted on to take his place, and the Knights took advantage of this brief deceleration to put down two tries, both of which came on the back of Pearce kicks. The first started with a bomb, and was all Edrick Lee, who showed Tupou he could leap metres in the air as well, tapping the ball back to Enari Tuala, who tucked it under his right arm and got on the outside of Manu to slam down Newcastle’s first four points – six once Lino added his first conversion.

Sonny Bill Williams came on a minute later for Siosiua Taukeiaho, but it didn’t prevent the Knights putting down their next points, this time off a Pearce chip to the right edge. Keary, Josh Morris and Guerra all leaped for it, but only Morris touched it, leaving it open for Gehamat Shibasaki to collect a perfect bounce and score right beneath the posts. SBW didn’t have a chance to showcase his skills before this try, but he got stuck in afterwards, opening up space for Sitili Tupouniua and then setting up the Roosters’ next tryscoring sequence with a halfback-like pass out to Manu.

Everything cascaded beautifully from there, as Manu danced from left to right, put in a left hand fend and offloaded on the ground to Flanagan, who kicked off the right boot for Tedesco in goal. Teddy got a horrible bounce, but responded like a homing pigeon, circling around the footy and gradually moving from his legs to his knees until it was safe to get hand to Steeden.

With Flanagan making it five from five the Roosters had decisively contained these last two tries, which would turn out to be the only points Newcastle would score all night, bookending the first stanza with their own point scoring as they headed into the sheds. Sonny Bill continued to shine when they returned with two key plays that set up Tupou for a double – and for his 100th career try, bring him to the fourth all-time Roosters scorer behind Bill Mullins, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Anthony Minichiello.

First a pair of offloads from Josh Morris and SBW set up Manu for a right side raid, and then SWB put in another half-like stint at first receiver a play later, commencing a left side sweep that saw the Steeden move through Keary before Teddy sent out a bullet ball for Josh Morris to tap it on to Tupou on the wing. Flanagan continued his perfect night with the boot, slotting through another one from the sideline, and the Roosters got an accelerated restart when Teddy stretched back a leg over the dead ball line as he caught Mason Lino’s kick on the full.

Lee tried to catch the footy as it sailed over the sideline but fumbled it instead, giving the Roosters a scrum feed to recommence their attack on the Newcastle line. Two tackles later they went for a Captain’s Challenge to contest a supposed Crichton knock-on of a Keary offload, and the replay indeed showed that the Steeden had ricocheted off his right shoulder without him getting a fingertip to it.

Sonny Bill got the Tricolours going again with a big hit-up but the Knights closed their ranks and managed to survive when Tupou leaped up to tap the high ball back to Tedesco, who ran at the line, dummied and then passed at the last minute to Morris, who was bundled into touch by a desperate Newcastle defence. The visitors bunched in at the start of the next Sydney City set, keen to build on this defensive momentum, but Pearce got too enthusiastic, giving the Chooks a piggy-back up field with a crusher tackle on Josh Morris.

Teddy surged at the line on the right and earned his men a restart after tempting Lee into the ruck, only for this rapid accumulation to come to an abrupt end when Flanagan kicked early. Lee and Tupouniua converged on the football in goal, and while Sitili arrived first, Edrick wrapped his hands around him to force the final knock-on, gifting the Knights a twenty-metre tap to get out of their own end. Pearce now had his worst moment with a cold drop in the middle of the park – and SBW made the most of it, scooping up the footy and running ten metres before flicking it out the back to Flanno.

Again, the Chooks built field position rapidly, as Sonny Bill slammed through a low tackle from Pearce and tempted a holding down penalty from Sione Mata’utia, clearing up space for Lindsay Collins to smash over beneath the posts a play later. Yet this turned out to be another almost-try – the most frustrating of the game – since Butcher was pinged for an obstruction in back play, even though Tex Hoy seemed to run in front of him to make a shot on Collins on his way over the chalk.

This was one of the most confounding calls of the year, especially since every single player on the park seemed to be expecting a try – particularly Collins, who got back in position to defend with blood streaming out of his mouth from the putdown. Herman Ese’ese now followed Pearce by becoming the next Knight to spill the ball cold in the middle of the park, and Tedesco followed suit, losing the footy into three defenders two tackles later.

This was a rare handling error from the greatest fullback in the game, but he made up for it by taking a big Pearce bomb on the full, and Tupou followed by making big metres to almost send Keary through the line on play two. Keary almost paid it forward to Crichton on the fourth and kicked on the last, while Brett Morris did break through the defence two tackles into the following set.

Relishing this longer period on the park, SBW barged into the defence on the next tackle and shot the fastest, straightest offload of the game back to Morris – more like a bullet ball than second phase play – who broke through the middle again and got the footy back inside to Teddy. The no. 1 managed a flick pass back but couldn’t quite nail the timing to turn this into a tryscoring sequence, although he’d get some terrific closure with a sublime assist before the game was done.

By this point the linebreak count was 8-0 and the offload count was 15-2, so it was a small victory for the Knights that they’d kept Sydney City to one try since the break, though with every minute that passed their own brief tryscoring sequence was receding too. They lost more momentum by wasting their Captain’s Challenge to contest a blatant error in the play-the-ball from Hoy, and then let the Roosters through one more time when their captain lobbed out a forward pass that was almost as bad – and uncharacteristic – as his dropped ball fifteen minutes before.

Cometh the hour cometh the men, as Friend now stormed up the middle and offloaded to Tedesco, who broke through the line and sent it across to Keary to score – a sublime vision of the Sydney City spine syncing and synergizing in perfect harmony. The offload from Friend was especially impressive – and yet effortless – as he twisted around on the ground like a diver in mid-air, waiting until the last moment to shift the Steeden to his fullback.

Keary’s first double was against the Knights on debut for South Sydney, so it felt apt that he now had his fifth against Newcastle again, especially since it coincided with his 150th match milestone. It culminated a brilliant night for the Roosters’ backline, who had scored all seven tries, Collins’ denied try notwithstanding, as well as a great night with the boot from Flanagan, who made it seven from seven with his final conversion here.

The Knights got a few more chances over the last nine minutes, building one of their most sustained periods of field position off a ruck infringement from Friend, a linebreak for Daniel Saifiti, an offside penalty for Keary, a dropout from Flanagan and yet another restart, this time off an error from Tupouniua. Yet it all came to nothing when Pearce made his final mistake of the night, capping off a fairly forgettable game for the blue and red army. They’ll be looking to take advantage of the home ground vibe, then, when they host the Dragons next week, while on the other side of the Steeden the Chooks should feel steeled by this superb performance for a big one against Cronulla on Saturday night at the SCG once more.

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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