ROUND 7: St. George-Illawarra Dragons v. Sydney Roosters (Sydney Cricket Ground, 25/4/22, 14-12)

The Dragons have broken the Roosters’ three-game Anzac streak in the most spectacular manner, coming away with their most heroic game of 2022 to notch up a two-point win that kept them defending their line until the very death. They scored fourteen unanswered points in the opening forty, the first time they’ve ever kept Sydney to nil by halftime on April 25, and then didn’t score a point after the sheds, absorbing the loss of Jack Bird to a broken arm and Jaydn Su’A to leg injury while facing a sublime stint from James Tedesco and Joey Manu.

Put that down to some visionary leadership from Ben Hunt, who started the game with both 40/20 and 20/40 attempts – big statements in and of themselves – before he bookended it with an actual 40/20 and a series of heroic defensive efforts, right down to the final hit on Daniel Tupou that prevented Sydney City making good on a left edge raid a minute out from the siren. A bout of flu in the Roosters’ forward pack kept Victor Radley and JWH on the bench for the first quarter, but even so this was an absolutely massive effort from the Red V.

George Burgess took the opening run for his first ever Anzac clash, and Francis Molo followed in his wake, before Jaydn Su’A took a big hit-up on the third, and Jack De Belin crawled through three defenders for a couple of post-contacts on the ground. Molo took another run, Hunt booted it long, and Daniel Tupou had the first carry for Sydney, before Joseph Suaalii took on Molo and Josh McGuire, and Sio Siua Taukeaiho made ten metres after contact for his last ever Anzac clash in the Tricolours.

Luke Keary kicked it to the ten, where Moses Mbye got an easy catch, and this time Hunt sent it from his own forty, not getting anywhere near the sideline, but booting it deep enough for Teddy to face a significant chase once he scooped it up. Back in the no. 9 jersey, Sam Verrills now followed Taukeiaho with strong post-contacts up the middle, and Sam Walker started to look for options, recalling his starmaking stint at the SCG last Anzac Day with a brief dummy to the left, before a rollicking St. George defence kept Sydney City to the middle third.

Nevertheless, the Chooks were starting to suffocate the Dragons, so Hunt hit back with a kick at the start of the count, sending it from his own ten to the opposition half, in search of a 20/40. Teddy came up with it, and then found himself slammed onto his back by Zac Lomax further up the left edge, a nasty flashback to last year’s game, when he was off the park after 34 minutes off a Jordan Pereira hit. This time he was fine to continue, although Lomax was put on report for a crusher, giving Sydney the first boost of field position of the afternoon.

With a 40/20 and 20/40 attempt already behind him, Hunt had been immense over the first seven minutes, and he contined that drive here with a barnstorming tackle to shut down Sitili Tupouniua as he collected a short one from Keary and set his eyes on the line. The Roosters never quite recovered from this hit, sweeping right to find Joey Manu couldn’t barge through a quartet of defenders who surged across the field to meet him, and then returning to the left for Keary to take a second shot at setting up Sitili.

This time Tupouniua offloaded back to Keary, who reprised the previous sweep to the right, where Manu got some second phase away that Angus Crichton promptly put down on the wing. The Dragons didn’t do much with their letoff, however, as Hunt booted a floater too far to gift the Roosters another acceleration of field position, which Walker ened with a perfectly weighted kick that Moses Suli missed in the air before Mbye cleaned it up in goal, before turning around to find a solid wall of Sydney defenders waiting for him.

The Chooks had the first dropout of the game, and got the first restart a play later, off a ruck error from Molo, while they were sitting at 12-0 tackles in the opposition half. Yet the Dragons stayed strong with a three-man push when Paul Momirovski received the footy seven metres in from the wing. Lomax stopped him in his tracks, Jack Bird drove him towards the sideline, and Mikaele Ravalawa came in on the tackle to force the error, before the Red V got their first penalty at the start of the count when Nat Butcher was called offside within the ten.

After repelling 262 run metres from Sydney (compared to their own 165), and only three tackles inside the Roosters’ half (and none in the twenty), the Dragons brought it together now, as Hunt flicked a short assist across for Molo to bust past Tupouniua and Taukeiaho, shrug off a last-ditch low tackle from Lindsay Collins, and slam down the first four of the game. Hunt added the extras, Burgess took a plosive run to begin the restart, McGuire tumbled into the Roosters’ line, and play paused for Manu to get some right leg attention.

He was good to go a minute later, but the stoppage had given the Roosters time to settle their defence, which Hunt ruptured just as quickly with his biggest bomb so far. Floating high above the SCG, the Steeden totally defied Lomax when it landed, and almost defied Tupou, who could only tap it at the ten and hope for the best, as it careened onto its tip in goal, where Ravalawa came agonisingly close to grounding it, only to knock on and commence another sustained period of Sydney City goal line attack when Bird got done for dangerous contact.

For the second time, however, the Dragons survived a close-range assault on their line, including a crossover on the right wing that started with Taukeiaho drawing in McGuire and De Belin in the middle of the park. The big no. 17 made space for Keary to shift a short one across to Walker, who took a long loping run across the park and crossed untouched only for Crichton to be pinged for an obstruction. Meanwhile Radley and JWH were pacing up and down the sideline, and looked more restless than ever to join the fray.

Still, Crichton didn’t take long to hit back on the edge, where he was almost cleaned up a set later, and came close to being bundled into touch, only to pop the footy out the back for Manu to scoop up and shift onto Teddy, who tucked it under his arm, accelerated from thirty to ten, and then made even more post-contacts to arrive two metres out, before getting six again off a Mbye ruck error. It was a superb captain’s run, and Teddy’s best moment of the game so far, ushering in another bout of Tricoloured field position.

The Chooks now drove in hard before the crossbar, as Keary nearly broke through, Collins tried a crash play off a dummy half ball from Verrills, and Verrills himself tried to burrow through the big men for a heroic try out of dummy half. Sensing it was time to spread, Keary got it out to Teddy, who was stopped in his tracks by a hard Hunt hit, as the set came down to Keary’s crossfield chip to the left, where Ravalawa caught it clean and came to ground a metre out from the line, without the slightest chance of a dropout.

Sydney reached the nadir of the first stanza at the tail end of Hunt’s next kick, which Teddy caught clean but dropped cold as he was shaping for a shift out to the left. Such an uncharacteristic error from the Sydney skipper galvanised the big men into some heavy lifting up the middle, including two charges from Aaron Woods in his first Anzac Day appearance, so it was frustrating when Suli lost it as soon as they moved out to the wing. Finally, Radley joined the park, as a complex Bird-Su’A tackle on Tupou set the stage for the Dragons’ next try.

Bird made the original contact, but the Giraffe was moving fast enough to careen him onto the ground, where he landed at an awkward angle, and got some medical attention as the Chooks sent the subsequent contact upstairs to see whether Su’A had stuck a hand in the play-the-ball. They got no joy, Bird returned gingerly to his feet, and the Dragons had the scrum, as Suli made up for his cough-up out on the left with a strong opening run, before Radley led a three-man effort to halt De Belin five out, and then got off him just in time.

From here, the Red V claimed the park as their own, sweeping left, sweeping right, and then condensing that panoramic play back to Hunt’s kick, which Momirovski had no sooner lost in the air than Su’A scooped it up and slammed down behind the crossbar. That said, Teddy did better under his next high ball, and almost forced a knock-on from Mbye, although this just gave the Dragons’ right edge another shot to flex their muscles, and shut down Walker in particular, who Andrew McCullough held above in the line in the grimmest contact so far.

Two spectacular plays now ensued on the wings, as Lomax found space up the right, travelled half the length of the SCG, and flicked it back inside to Bird, via a Walker touch that got the Red V six again, only for a mammoth Suaalii hit to force the footy free just as Bird was reining it in. On the cusp of an 18-0 scoreline this was the turnaround in momentum that Sydney City needed, and yet McGuire parlayed the same propulsive rhythm up the left on his next carry, where he made twenty-five before Keary tried to strip the Steeden.

It backfired, giving the Moose the ricochet he needed to add another seven metres to his tally, so it was frustrating for the home fans when Su’A shot an offload through Ravalawa’s legs and over the line, especially since Bird was also in clear discomfort. Radley immediately reasorbed the momentum of Lomax and McGuire into a huge burst up the middle that would have likely produced an untouched try if the play hadn’t been called back for a forward ball from Fletcher Baker that looked significantly more legitimate on the replay.

The first stanza ended with Radley, who came in for an early tackle to grant Lomax the penalty kick that put St. George 14-0, and then left the park for an HIA before a Momirovski error took the steam out of two straight restarts. He was back on after the break, but the same couldn’t be said for Bird, who had broken his arm in the contact with Suaallii. The Red V had kept the opposition scoreless for the first time in an Anzac Day clash, but the Chooks had a cracking set back, a great opener after one of the most eventful first forties of footy this round.   

That said, the Dragons were still immense indefence, as Blake Lawrie made clear by his opener on JWH, who had been on the park since the 23rd minute. Tupou glimpsed a break on the next set, and while he danced over the ensuing McCullough ankle tap, Woodsy came in for the other leg to force the first error of the second stanza. Any red and white relief was short-lived, however, as Su’A became the next Dragon to leave the park, following a charge up the left side, leaving the Red V with a seriously depleted bench as De Belin returned to the fray.  

There was no question that losing Bird and Su’A hit the visitors hard, as Amone flicked the footy onto Momirovski, and Teddy pounced on an even more egregious error at the end of their next set, when Hunt opted to run it on the last, Lomax offloaded from the right edge, and Lawrie shifted it on for Mbye, who failed to scoop it up before Suaalii could get there and flick it back up to his fullback. Tedesco had glimpsed greatness with his twenty-five metre charge up the right, and now he came good for the best single run of the afternoon.

He started by bumping off McGuire, then danced over a low tackle from Suli, bursting into space as St. George defenders cascaded left and right, before shifting it out to Manu, who responded in kind with a big right-boot pivot to break back inside, where it took three men to bring him down. Without losing a beat, Keary parlayed that massive momentum into a left sweep, where Walker delivered a big dummy to clear up space for Radley to put Tupouniua over for the first Sydney City points of the game, before Walker made it six with the kick.

The match was at peak volatility, and yet a fairly messy period now ensued, despite some bomb-for-bomb action from the two halfbacks, culminating with Tupou smashing an arm into Ravalawa for what really should have been a trip to the bin. In its own way, this was the first arm wrestle of the game, since while neither side was going end-to-end consistently, the balance of error was about the same – until Taukeiaho offloaded for Manu to mirror Teddy’s break up the middle, with the man himself only five metres behind and barking out for it.

Instead, Manu chose to take on the line himself, slamming into a Hunt-Sims-De Belin tackle before his men again channelled the bust out to the left. This time, Tupouniua didn’t get it right, opting for a grubber on the fourth that Ravalawa cleaned up a metre out, although the Chooks were back on the line at the end of their next carry, as Teddy condensed his mad dash into a close-range affair on the left, ducking under McGuire and coming dangerously close to a putdown. A play later, Keary’s kick ricocheted off Amone for another dropout.

With this kind of acceleration, the Dragons needed a big one-man play – and Lomax provided it, reaching out his right hand to only just rein in a Walker-Tedesco pass midway through the count. It was frustrating, then, when McCullough missed a big short side opportunity midway through the set after that, although Amone recovered by breaking into space, while the Dragons continued to build momentum with a successful challenge to prove that a supposed knock-on from Amone had been a straightforward tackle with no undue contact.

Once again, though, they slumped, as Mbye followed a tough De Belin-McCullough offload with a fumbled play-the-ball, and it was devastating for the away crowd when Manu built on it with another Anzac Day classic on the penultimate play. Taukeiaho got the Roosters rolling with a rollicking dummy and run to the thirty, while Manu drove it further up the middle and followed a near-crossover from Fletcher Baker beside the right post by capping off one of the best Sydney City combos of the night on the same edge of the park.

Still relatively fresh off the bench, Drew Hutchison flicked the footy out to Crichton, who sent it on for Suaalii to deliver his second massive play of the game with an offload assist through Mathew Feagai back to Manu. From here, Joey gathered all the Roosters’ Anzac passion into the most spectacular run of the night – more like a dance than a run, as he skipped past Mbye, bounced onto the ground, and then got up again to gift Walker more position for a kick from right in front. Ten minutes left, and we had another Sydney-St. George grandstand finish.

The Chooks hadn’t scored in the first half, and the Dragons hadn’t scored in this half, and the two-point differential supercharged some of the most suspenseful footy so far over the next few minutes, including a break from Manu on the restart and another dropout for the visitors to contend with. It all came full circle when Walker broke the ten and Manu tried to crash through, only to lob it into a St. George line that were desperate to stay strong now, as Hunt cemented this last period of red and white heroism by making good on his 40/20 attempt.

Even worse, Tupou let it bounce over the sideline without reading the play properly, as the Dragons dug deep into the potential and promise of Hunt’s opening work with the boot, and the forty minutes of unanswered pointscoring it had ushered in. With two minutes on the clock, the Red V had to notch up a repeat set and spend as much time down here as possible, so it was agonising when Hunt lobbed it over the sideline on the last, giving the Tricolours ninety seconds, and one last bout of position, to make it four straight Anzac victories.

Hunt didn’t take long to recover, however, cleaning up Teddy as soon as he glimpsed space up the right, and then shutting down the last burst of Roosters energy on the other side of the park, where Radley missed a Tupounoia offload, but Walker scooped it up and surged up the sideline, eventually flicking it on for Tupou. Cometh the hour cometh the man, as Hunt now slammed in to redirect the ball, which came off one of his own players, but travelled backwards, thirty seconds out from the siren.

After five straight losses to start the season, including an absolute shellacking at the hands of Parramatta, the Dragons have started to rebuild, since while this was only a two-point win, it was the hardest-won of Round 7, along with Luke Brooks’ field goal magic against the Rabbitohs on Saturday night. It’s also revitalised the Anzac Day clash, and added a further incentive for the Chooks when they meet next year, although in the short term they’ll be looking to work on these slow starts when they rock up to meet the Bulldogs next week.

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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