The Roosters were in celebration mode when they trotted onto the SCG on Easter Sunday, ushered in by a guard composed of the 2002 drought-breakers. Luke Keary was celebrating his 100th match, and the Chooks were hungry for fast points following their grandstand win over the Broncos at Suncorp, but the Warriors also had the wind behind them with Shaun Johnson popping through a field goal win against the Cowboys last week – their first in golden point since Stacey Jones came away with the one-pointer against the Roosters back in 2009.
Addin Fonua-Blake continued that rollicking rhythm with a terrific opening half as captain, as the Warriors continued the trend of underdogs hitting back in Round 6 by maintaining the advantage all the way to the 42nd minute, when a Sam Walker penalty kick made it 8-8. From there, the Chooks bounced back big, reaching 20-8 only for Reece Walsh to boot one of the best of his career to the right sideline to narrow the deficit to six points with fifteen on the clock, before New Zealand dug deep to withstand a sustained Sydney campout on their line.
It ended with a bone-rattling one-on-one from Chanel on Crichton, although this wasn’t enough to bring the Warriors home, especially since they received a few unlucky calls over the course of the night, from the decision to let Teddy remain on the park after he arguably committed a professional foul, to a very questionable conclusion to a Warriors’ challenge, which decreed that Crichton hadn’t stripped the footy even though he seemed to have intent, before Crichton himself quickly became the beneficiary of a successful Roosters challenge.
Add to that a barnstorming night from Kevin Naiqama, who played a pivotal role in the first try and scored the second to break the 8-8 deadlock, and this was footy drama at its finest. Sam Walker broke new ground with his kicking and running game, taking the challenge of Walsh’s sideways kick as an incentive to up his own performance even further, and Teddy was staunch as always, working doubly hard in the backline to make up for a relatively quiet night from Manu, who at times played more like another forward than a real playmaking centre.
The Warriors got through a decent opening set, including a strong late carry from Josh Curran and a good closing kick from Shaun Johnson, while Suaalii took his first run back in top-tier footy on tackle three of the subsequent set, clearing up space for a tough JWH charge. Sydney defended well to keep New Zealand in their own forty on their second touch of the footy, and while Johnson booted it long and low, Teddy was up to the take, before Curran and JWH had their first big encounter, and Johnson became the collateral damage, causing a brief pause.
Luckily, he was cleared to remain on the park, and the Warriors got a slightly augmented start to their next set when an uninspired Keary kick produced a double ricochet and a start twenty-five metres out. Daniel Tupou was safe under the following high ball, and while the visitors timed their next chase well to drive him back, Lindsay Collins didn’t have any trouble recouping the field position with a hard drive over halfway to celebrate his birthday. Keary did better this time, hoisting it high to the right corner where Reece Walsh leaped to greet it.
He missed the catch, but the Warriors still came away with the footy after JWH failed to secure the knock-back. Wayde Egan garnered ten metres out of dummy half, and glimpsed a new elasticity up the left edge, and while the Warriors didn’t build on it now, Johnson translated that fresh fluidity into his most effortless floater yet, forcing the Chooks to work it back from their ten. Even then, Angus Crichton followed Collins with a big charge to break the opposition half, making it clear that he hadn’t lost any energy in his few weeks off the park.
Seven minutes in, the Warriors got the first penalty, and their first significant boost into Sydney territory, when Keary was called offside within the ten. They elasticised immediately, shifting it from left to right before Dallin Watene Zelezniak wisely decided not to take it too close to the sideline on tackle one. They were back on the left edge on play three, where they got six again inside the ten off a Drew Hutchison error, before Addin Fonua-Blake gathered all this escalating energy into the best charge so far, beating both Tupouniua and then JWH.
It came off the quickest play-the-ball of the season, and would have produced points then and there if Teddy hadn’t wrapped around the big prop’s leg, holding on long enough that the away crowd were braying for a sin bin. Instead, they got a penalty, as Walsh booted the two through the uprights – a sensible decision, perhaps, but also a little anticlimactic after New Zealand’s glimpses of brilliance on this last set. Fonua-Blake had actually beaten Tupouniua twice before slicing past big Jared, so you had to hope he’d fire up as soon he carried it again.
Sensing the danger, and probably a little rattled by coming this close to the bin, Teddy booted the kickoff as deep as possible, giving his men ample time to keep the Warriors in their red zone for the first half of the restart. Chanel Harris-Tevita became the next New Zealander to glimpse that elusive elasticity up the left edge, but he lost the footy in the process, gifting the Chooks a scrum thirty-five metres out. Yet a fumble from Hutchison, at the very base of the scrum, got the Warriors out of jail, and their own scrum feed from exactly the same location.
Fonua-Blake drew in three defenders early in the count but couldn’t reprise his great run, and Johnson ended with a mercurial grubber to the left corner, where Tupou seemed to have ushered it into touch, only for DWZ to hit them both at the last second to force the dropout. For the fourth time in Round 6, the underdogs were peaking halfway through the first stanza, capitalising two tackles into the repeat set off a sparkling set play – shift out to the left wing, where they got the overlap for Adam Pompey to put Edward Kosi over for his second NRL try.
Walsh sent through a stellar sideline conversion to make it eight unanswered points, but with Aaron Pene losing the footy on tackle two, the Chooks had a chance to reset the rhythm with a scrum thirty out. Tupouniua was inside the red zone on play one, JWH at the ten on play two, and Collins on the line on play three. From there, the Roosters swept right, and yet they couldn’t channel all this forward momentum into their lateral play, as Victor Radley mistimed the pass, sending it bouncing twenty metres back for Jesse Arthars to launch himself onto it.
Even worse for the Roosters, Keary surged in for an early tackle, but with Arthars himself making an error at the end of the next set this turned out to be a false chance for the Warriors, who allowed Sydney back into their own end with a Bunty Afoa offside a minute later. New Zealand were ready for them, though, as Afoa made up for his error by depriving Walker of options on the penultimate play, before Kosi followed his try with a long looping run to collect a Tedesco grubber and bring it back into the park as boos rangs out from the SCG grandstand.
Curran was off the park and on the exercise bike, after some awkward contact just before Radley’s error, and Pene joined him a moment later after copping JWH’s arm in the face. Jared was put on report, Eliesa Katoa trotted off the bench, and the Warriors spent most of the set up the left, where Afoa took the first tackle and then the fourth to bring his men inside the twenty, before Johnson gathered all that accumulated position and condensed it into a superb skidding grubber that Walker only just bumped over the back line – or so it seemed.
Instead, to the joy of the home crowd, the refs decided that Walker hadn’t touched the footy, and with six again off an Afoa offside, this was a critical consolidation chance for the Tricolours. Teddy received the ball a little late up the right edge, allowing Pompey to shut him down, while Tupouniua failed to read a Joey Manu no-looker on the other side of the park, giving Johnson ample time to wrap him up. Sydney now amped up the defence, keeping the Warriors deep in their end as Kevin Naiqama made one of his best hits in Roosters colours.
It meant that Walsh, like the three runners before him, was unable to clean the forty, and while Johnson fought back with a huge kick from the left sideline, the footy sat up five metres too late, gifting Sydney City seven tackles to get themselves on the board. Suaalii and Harris-Tevita contested Walker’s chip to the left, and Chanel knocked on in the air, as the Chooks finally condensed all their frustrated energy into a sublime and simple play off the scrum – Keary to Teddy, who held up the line and flicked it for Naiqama to assist Tupou on the wing.
The Giraffe’s collect was the icing on the cake – reaching out with his full wingspan, reining it in with his left hand, and slamming over for a 121st try that put him equal with Shaun Kenny-Dowall as the Roosters’ second top tryscorer, only eighteen behind Anthony Minichiello at 139. Walker has struggled a bit from the sideline in recent games, but he struck it beautifully here, straight and true through the posts to bring us back to a two point contest, only to cough it up during a error-laden period that ended with Kosi knock-on in the face of a Sydney pack.
Both Walker and Kosi remained in the spotlight at the end of the next Sydney set, when Walker almost secured a dropout with a subliminal grubber up the right, and Kosi responded with an even better run than his save on the Tedesco kick, getting his ball-carrying arm just over the chalk, where Radley tumbled on top of him too fast to pull back from the head contact. He became the next Chook to be put on report, while Kosi was only well enough to start the penalty set, before Curran, now back on the park, took over the brunt of the defence.
Johnson booted it too far again on the last, but Keary only waited four tackles to send it long and low into the New Zealand twenty, prescient that the best option now was to simply exhaust the opposition in the last three minutes before the break. His next kick was just as challenging, coming on the last this time, but with a dangerous enough bounce that Pompey had to circle it a few times before he was confident to scoop it up. By then, the Roosters’ chase had well and truly arrived, so the visitors did well to get Johnson seventy metres upfield.
Slicing the Steeden over the sideline, the ex-Shark forced Sydney to work it back from their own ten in their last set before the break, and when the siren rang out the Tricolours still hadn’t taken the lead at any point during the first forty. The Chooks got an early chance in the second half when Walsh sent the footy way too far on the kickoff, as the Warriors settled in to defend their twenty-metre line with five tackles to go, where Egan got done for a hand in the ruck – and it was a gesture of respect that Walker put up his hand to take the two now.
Two minutes into the second stanza and we finally had a level score, while New Zealand gave the hosts another boost with a second effort from Afoa on play one of the restart. Crichton started with a driving charge up the middle, Tupouniua continued his momentum out on the left, and Keary sent a cut-out for Manu to get a rare touch in an otherwise quiet game up the other side of the park. From there, he flicked it back for Suaalii to break through in his wake, before Keary directed this mastery of left, right and centre into an oblique kick from the back.
It was an inspired option but Walsh was up to it, while the Warriors finally got a bump off their own line with a Crichton crusher on tackle one, and then more territory with a drop and ruck error from Radley. This wasn’t just their best position of the second half but one of their fastest accumulations all night, so it was paramount they deliver something special here. The first three plays were sluggish, then Manu cleaned up Pompey clinically on the left edge, so they were lucky when Naiqama coughed up a Chanel chip to the other side of the SCG oval.
Add a Tedesco ruck infringement to the mix, and the Warriors had to achieve something or else concede this fresh burst of energy straight back to the Chooks. Walsh smashed over on the right wing a play later, Afoa was cleared for an obstruction on Walker, and the replay showed that Fletcher Baker, who had saved the try just in time, had avoided high contact, while achieving a one-on-one strip under the clutchiest conditions on the ground, forcing a Walsh cough-up to ensure Arthars’ subsequent putdown couldn’t come into consideration.
This was a contentious call, since you could argue that it was the ricochcet of the strip that had flicked the footy forward, but New Zealand didn’t have time to consider the decision as an Arthars offside got the Chooks yet another acceleration into opposition territory. Teddy failed to link up with Naiqama for a reprise of their earlier tryscoring combo, but the hosts were still on the line midway through the set, only for Crichton to try to pour through a hole on the final play, and find himself confronted with an absolutely committed Warriors defence.
It took a toll on Curran, who was down for the second time this afternoon, after copping the full brunt of big Angus’ sternum, giving both sides about two minutes to regain their breath before the last half hour of the match. This time he didn’t have to leave the park, slotting back into the play, albeit without the signature head gear, as the Warriors carefully and methodically ferried the footy out of their own end, before Walsh booted up a damaging spiral bomb, and Teddy, in his best take so far, slid across the grass to preclude the bounce.
DWZ wasn’t as safe under Keary’s next bomb to the left corner, initially taking it on the full, and just as quickly losing it as Baker scooped it off the turf and lobbed it across for Naiqama to channel the Roosters’ left-edge opener into an even more mercurial piece of play. Between Teddy’s clinical brilliance beneath Walsh’s most dangerous kick of the afternoon, and Dallin’s inability to secure the Steeden even when he got both hands to it, the skill difference started between the teams started to crystallise as Walker booted through a superb sideline goal.
Once again, he knocked it straight through the posts, bringing the Chooks to a converted try win for the first time today. Teddy was now in first gear, barging his way up the left edge and throwing dummies in all directions, while seeming to drag half the New Zealand defence along with him. No surprise that Keary sent the footy to DWZ again, although this time it was Tupouniua who became the casualty of the glaring sun, with a mistimed tackle in the air that cleared up space for Johnson to deliver two scintillating plays on the right side of the park.
The first was a wide ball that Bayley Sironen hit at speed, the second a towering bomb that galvanised Teddy into his second brilliant collect in the last five minutes. Whereas his sliding shutdown of Walsh’s spiraller had been a showcase in dexterity, this was all brute force and determination, as the game’s best custodian launched himself straight into the footy with Walsh all up in his face, dishevelling the Warriors enough for Arthars to stick a hand in the ruck a play later, before supercharging his men with a superb flick pass down the other end.
This should have been the start of another tryscoring sweep to the left, so it was a huge letoff for the Warriors when Naiqama misread his fullback’s second phase play, leaving Tupouniua to take the pass as DWZ and Walsh converged for bone-rattling contact. Sitili steadied the ship with a flick back to Teddy on the next Roosters carry, however, laying a platform up the left for Walker to smash over off one of the best short-range runs of his career – dance away from Walsh, 180 spin through Johnson, arm out through Fonua-Blake to get the footy down.
Breaking the sequence into its composite parts doesn’t do justice to the balletic rhythm with which Walker moved from dodging to tackling to grounding, as he channelled the best of the 2002 Roosters despite only being three months old when they nabbed their historic premiership. He capped it off with yet another banger from the sideline, bringing the Chooks to a 20-8 lead. This was big in the context of this particular game, but at the end of the day it was only two converted tries, with sixteen on the clock, so the Warriors still had a chance.
They got their next shot after surviving the restart, early in their next set, when Naiqama got done for a slow peel – and delivered immediately, off some of the most elusive ball playing of Walsh’s career. Stealing into space up the right edge, he sent it off the boot and back to the left wing, splitting the difference between a chip and a no-look pass to totally confound the Roosters – but not DWZ, who somehow managed to read the play perfectly, dummying twice to dispose of Tupou before curving around to set up his halfback for a neat conversion.
Just like that, we were back to a six point game, with fourteen on the clock, while Walsh, only 26 days younger than Walker, had given him a run for his money as the most promising young gun on the park. Fonua-Blake fumbled the play-the-ball early in the restart, and just as quickly Johnson sent it upstairs to prove that Crichton had got a hand in there – or that’s how it seemed from the replay, which clearly showed Angus applying pressure to the Steeden, despite the fact that the Bunker eventually decided that there had been no intent to strip.
For the sake of momentum, then, it was absolutely critical that the Warriors survive this next set, especially since Daniel Suluka-Fifita reached the line on tackle one, and Suaalii came just as close to a crossover on the right wing a play later. The Chooks regathered after some poor Naiqama handling midway through the count, Arthars handled the kick on the right, and DWZ was held to have knocked on in another contentious call, but without a challenge to counter it. Now the Chooks had a scrum at the ten, and New Zealand had to hold on for dear life.
Again, Suluka-Fifita drove it at the line, as Keary barked out orders to shift it to the left this time, where Walker failed to make it through the defence in the shadow of the SCG lights. Harris-Tevita made the one-on-one tackle of his career to force the footy free from JWH out on the right, in such a drastic David-and-Goliath effort that the Chooks were compelled to take it upstairs, where the footage showed that Pompey’s boot had indeed got in the way. It was the ultimate sign of respect, now, when Walker set up the tee with a converted try lead.
The angle was easy, but Walker still made it look like a masterpiece, curving the ball subliminally so it slipped inside the posts at the last second. His boot was just as brilliant at the other end of the restart, coming up with a bounce that was just low enough to ensure that Walsh couldn’t collect it securely, leaving himself vulnerable for Tupouniua to barge it out of his grasp and over the dead ball line, leading to a brief Bunker sequence to determine which player had made the last contact, or the wrong contact, during this plosive sequence.
After a few rough calls, the Warriors got some joy now, going from a potential dropout to a seven tackle set with seven minutes left on the clock. Sydney were fifth on the live ladder, and New Zealand ninth, as the visitors struggled to make headway on the first couple of plays, before Pompey somehow managed to flick the footy back inside as Keary spearheaded a pack to drag him over the left sideline on the third. Walsh hoisted it as high as possible on the last, splitting the Chooks enough for Egan to collect the Steeden and shape for another big kick.
Unfortunately, a whole host of Warriors were offside, with Taniela Otukolo copping the penalty as JWH launched himself into Katoa for some good post-contacts to start this next Sydney City surge. Radley sent Collins through the line a tackle later, and the birthday Chook made good on the space, twisting and spinning through a low shot from Chanel, and reaching out his left arm over Walsh to bring his right arm down beside the padding, before slamming the Steeden onto the ground in what appeared to be (only just) the same motion in real time.
It wasn’t especially surprising, then, when the Bunker replay deemed this a second effort. The Warriors had gone from a near-dropout to seven tackles a few minutes before, and now they went from conceding the match-winning try to a penalty to get them out of their own end. With four to go and an eight-point deficit, there was more of a chance here than you might have expected from the stats going into this game, but Radley stifled the back half of the set with a mammoth hit on Chanel with all the frustration of the Chooks’ mixed day behind it.
Finally, two and a half minutes out from the clock, Sydney got their last big shot with a Walsh error that set them up for a scrum from the ten. The Warriors stayed strong, keeping both Teddy and JWH outside the ten midway through the set, and holding up Manu on the left, before Katoa garnered his men a twenty-metre restart, in the last big moment of the game. The Chooks got the points ahead of Monday’s ANZAC clash against the Dragons, but full credit to the Warriors for a fight that should gee them up to take on the purple army at AAMI Park.