The Roosters made up for last week’s loss to the Storm with a spectacular win over the Dragons for their traditional ANZAC Day Clash at the SCG on Sunday afternoon. Despite losing James Tedesco to an HIA in the first stanza, off a really questionable charge from Jordan Pereira, they came away with a 34-10 victory, thanks to some of the best leadership and vision in Sam Walker’s four-week NRL career – a great game for the Morris brothers to celebrate their 100th match together.
Victor Radley was on the park, cleared after challenging the grading of a high tackle charge, while Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was named in the starting side despite leaving the park with a shoulder injury last week, presumably to prop up the Sydney City forwards with Siosiua Taukeiaho out with a rib injury. Josh Morris, ruled out late last week with calf tightness, was back in the starting side, while Sam Verrills was back for the first time since he and Radley were injured in last year’s belated ANZAC clash.
On the other side of the Steeden, the Dragons had won 11 of their 18 ANZAC day matches, and had Corey Norman on the park despite his shoulder issues against the Warriors last week. He had to really lead from the halves, since Ben Hunt wasn’t going to be back from his fractured fibula until at least next week. It was also relieving for the Red V to get Blake Lawrie back after he missed the New Zealand match with a cork.
Lawrie had the first touch of the football, and Paul Vaughan the second, but the Dragons didn’t even get halfway through their opening set, as Andrew McCullough put down an early Tyrell Fuimaono offload. Two tackles later, Sam Walker put it down, and then Jordan Pereira, who knocked a Corey Norman pass into Lawrie. Fuimaono took out his frustration with a high shot on James Tedesco on tackle one, and the Tricolours decided to take the two, in order to put this fragmented opening period behind them.
Yet Walker sliced the Steeden away from the right post, keeping it nil all as both teams prepared to complete their first set, four and half minutes into the match. Angus Crichton got a good offload back to Tedesco, Walker bombed to the right edge, and the Dragons recovered from a tapback to get stuck into their first foray downfield. Daniel Tupou fumbled Norman’s first bomb, and while Billy Burns came up with it, he cost his men a try when he offloaded back to Ben Marschke a moment later.
Even so, the Dragons had the scrum feed, and piled on for the first close-range attack of the night, as the big men crashed at the line, spreading from the centre out to the right edge. Norman ended with a freaky grubber that suddenly accelerated on the second bounce, sliding up and ricocheting off the left post before Drew Hutchison caught it on the full and appeared to lose it back to Jack Bird. However, the replay showed that Bird had knocked on ever so slightly back into Hutchsion to deny the try.
This was a big let-off for the Roosters, although the Dragons still had a dropout off Hutchison’s original knock-on. They got the first restart on tackle two, thanks to a ruck error from Marschke, while Bird tried to go it alone on play three, and came up half a metre short. Norman got them a second straight dropout with a deft grubber that Teddy was forced to scoop up in his left hand, and with all that momentum behind them they scored a belated first try on the subsequent set.
Lindsay Collins absolutely skittled Lawrie on the first run, but the Dragons were unfazed, as Pereira took an enormous carry up the left edge, Vaughan was held up over the line, and Tariq Sims completed the war of attrition by charging through Sitili Tupouniua and bumping of Tedesco. You could see from the vertical camera that Sims had started his run right on the play-the-ball, meaning he hit the Steeden at such speed that the goal line defence wilted, putting St. George six ahead once Lomax converted.
Lawrie wasn’t going to be skittled a second time on play one of the restart, while Norman opted for a long early kick for field position. Hutchison glimpsed some space up the left edge when the Roosters got the ball again, but Josh Morris skewed the pass to the wing when Ravalawa came in for an overt shoulder charge that got him put on report. It was a strange tackle, since Ravalawa more or less led with the head, burying his scalp into Morris’ chest in an attempt to pummel him over the line.
Sydney City now had their first decent field position in some time, and Josh Morris made the most of it, completing the previous play by driving the footy deep into the line, making a big right-foot step to get away from Lomax and popping a high ball across for Tupou to score. Walker now missed his second kick of the night, keeping the Roosters at four, while the next five minutes settled into the first big arm-wrestle of the match, as both teams went set for set with no errors or penalties.
For a moment, it looked like a Hutchison bomb on the cusp of the second quarter might break the deadlock, but even though Ravalawa missed it, Josh Morris lost it too, and with the first knock-on attributed to the Roosters the Dragons got rolling once again. Undaunted by his report, Ravalawa dumped Tupou on his back during the next set, and the Roosters responded by spreading it right, where Cody Ramsey did well to hold up Joey Manu, before Hutchison tackled Lomax in the air for a much-needed penalty.
The Dragons didn’t do much with this set, losing their momentum when Vaughan was held up by Collins and Liu in the middle of the field. Josh McGuire compensated with a good run up the middle, and Sims made decent post-contact metres up the left wing before offloading back to Norman, but Collins barged into Matt Dufty as he placed the final kick, resulting in an overlong effort and seven fresh tackles for Sydney City. They got a restart a moment later, but Hutchison lost a Tupou pass four tackles after.
The arm-wrestle had now extended to about ten minutes, as the late afternoon light turned golden over the SCG. St. George got their next shot when Bird, frustrated at what he claimed was a shoulder charge from Tupouniua, slammed into JWH early in the next Roosters set, rattling the footy free within the twenty. Sims had another monster run up the left edge, Bird carried four defenders to a metre shy of the line, but McCullough missed the pass to Dufty and was forced to extemporise a messy kick.
The Red V got another bout of field position next time they had ball in hand, thanks to a ruck infringement from Tupouniua and a dangerous hit from Marschke. Yet Norman’s grubber was as underwhelming as McCullough’s, careening off the defence and straight back into the hands of Marschke. JWH got his own back on Bird with a half-break a moment later, and Tedesco hit the deck as Ramsey came up with another superb save up the right edge, this time on a mad dash from Brett Morris.
All of a sudden, the game got into first gear, as the Chooks got a restart off a Norman error, and Tupouniua rolled the footy in goal a second later, where he was held up. Meanwhile, Teddy was taken off for an HIA, while the replay showed the full carelessness of the Pereira tackle that downed him – a huge swinging arm that caught the Sydney City fullback straight in the face a full second after he’d passed the ball. No surprise that Pereira was put on report and sent to the bin, as Manu moved to fullback.
Finally, on the fifth tackle, Tupouniua made good on his earlier run, after Brett Morris collected a high ball from Walker and shifted it back inside to him at just the right moment. Even then, Sitili had to pivot brilliantly from boot to boot to bump off Dufty and then crash down beneath Norman to get the four points, while Ramsey, who was in the vicinity, didn’t have a chance of getting to him. Walker slotted through his first kick of the night, and the Roosters were four ahead at 10-4 with four on the clock.
The Roosters’ restart ended with a poor kicking option, but they made up for it with their last set before the break. Brett Morris poked his nose through the line and flicked it out to Walker on the right wing, Fletcher Baker broke through the line for an enormous run up to the left corner, and finally Nat Butcher collected a late offload from Walker and smashed over the chalk for another try forty seconds out from the siren, bringing the Chooks to a ten-point lead once Walker got his second conversion.
Sydney City had scored two tries with Pereira off the field, but whereas Pereira returned, Tedesco didn’t, having failed his HIA. Both teams completed their first sets, putting the messy opening minutes behind them, as Pereira came on at the forty-second minute, and the Roosters almost got one more try down before he’d fully inserted himself into the game. Josh Morris collected a long ball from Walker, dummied to his right and flicked it one-handed out to Tupou, who then headed inside.
Tupou fed it to Crichton, who reached out to collect it with his right hand, bumped off Dufty, and shifted it across to Hutchison, who would have scored if not for a clutch ankle tap from Ramsey. No sooner had Pereira returned to the field than the Roosters nearly scored – and Marschke went to the bin in his place, after committing a professional foul, preventing Bird getting a quick tap on the back of Hutchison’s error with a play that Ashley Klein deemed “cynical and deliberate.”
Walker now stepped into the spotlight, ending the next set with an enormous bomb that Pereira leaned right back to collect, but still lost through his legs, twisting around to try and recover only to find that Matt Ikuvalu, at eighteenth man, had already come up with it. Ikuvalu shifted it across to Radley, who in turn sent it on to Walker, for a sequence that will come to be seen as pivotal in this young halfback’s career. Walker received it at the ten, dummied to the left, and then, amazingly, took on the line.
Ravalawa greeted him five metres out, leaping onto his back and somersaulting them both over the try line as Vaughan came in underneath. The ruling was no try, and the Bunker scrutinized the play from every angle to show that Ravalawa and Vaughan had indeed bundled up Walker for the majority of the tackle, only for the Ipswich junior to plant the footy down with his chest just before the play was completed. The call was changed to try, and Walker booted through the extras from in front a moment later.
This was an incredible display for only Walker’s fourth game in first-grade – and a real boost to the Chooks to score their next try with only twelve men on the park, especially since they’d scored twice while Pereira was in the bin. Even better, Verrills ran onto the park for the restart, almost breaking through the line for his very first carry, and then feeding a short ball to put Collins over the line for his third try a set later, on the back of a goal line dropout. Walker converted again, and the Roosters were 28-6.
The Tricolours had well and truly closed ranks with Tedesco off the field, clinically cleaning up a burst up the left sideline and kick at speed from Ramsey a set later. Crichton came in for a huge hit on Adam Clune a set after that, slamming his right shoulder into one of the smallest men on the park, as if to rub in just how dominant the Roosters were by this stage in the game. Sydney City targeted the left edge, and while Walker came up with a subpar kick, they still turned it into something special.
Brett Morris leaped up to tap it back to Tupouniua, who sent it across to Ikuvalu for a clutch kick that forced another dropout when Bird cleaned it up behind the line. Ikuvalu had Ramsey all over him but still managed to get his right arm away and orchestrate the kick while dancing on the sideline. Fueled by this sequence, Tupouniua dragged three defenders five metres and over the line on play two, and while Fuimaono followed with a huge shot on Collins, Ravalawa fumbled the intercept a tackle later.
Tupouniua interfered with the defence but the refs seemed to miss it, as Liu charged at the posts, and Walker secured yet another dropout with a grubber that Ravalawa was forced to clean up in goal. This was now the most sustained field position for either team, and the Roosters got even more when Norman went too short with the dropout, and Ravalawa got a penalty for knocking it back within ten metres. The Chooks could have quintupled the Dragons at 30-6, but tapped to go – and it paid off immediately.
A few seconds later, Manu received the footy, dummied right, broke away from Sims and bumped off McCullough to score the simplest try of the night. He was helped by the pressure Tupouniua had placed all game on Norman, who now hesitated, expecting a shift out to the wiry second-rower, and so opened up space for Manu to cruise through like it was a training run. Walker was just as diligent in setting up his conversion from in front, bringing the scoreline six short of Manly’s win over the Tigers.
Finally, six minutes out from the siren, the Dragons got some joy, as Dufty accelerated off the left boot, beat Verrills and flicked the footy out to Ravalawa, who bumped off Hunt and slammed through Manu to score. Lomax missed the conversion, though, so the Dragons were still four converted tries behind.
They remained there, too, since neither team scored again before the final siren blew out. This was a pretty impressive scoreline for a Roosters team without Tedesco on the field, as well as a worrying match for Teddy himself, since this marks his third big head clash after Origin and Sivo. The Tricolours will be looking to accommodate and nurture him as they head into next week’s match against the Knights, while the Dragons and Tigers will be looking to put a bad Sunday behind them when they meet next Sunday.