After losses to the Dragons and Bulldogs, and an inconsistent game against Gold Coast, the Roosters have finally found their feet with a stellar win over Parramatta in a Magic Round blockbuster. They were at 21-6 by half time, and continued their dominance in a series of bursts after the break, as James Tedesco provided his customary guidance, and Joey Suaalii put down two straight tries – the last off a sublime combo with Luke Keary – in what will surely come to be seen as a watershed moment in his ongoing evolution with Sydney City.
On the side of the Steeden, Parra can also hold their heads high – especially Mitchell Moses, whose leadership here was comparable to Adam Reynolds’ vision against the Sea Eagles on Friday night. After assisting the first two tries, he crossed over himself with the best individual play so far of Magic Round – two kicks up the right, and an equally scintillating chase – tipping the game back in the Eels’ favour until we were at a 25-24 margin by the final quarter. Even if Sydney hit back, it was a stunning sequel to his organisation against Penrith last Friday night.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves took the first hit-up as the smoke cleared from Suncorp, and Parra defended well to ensure that Drew Hutchison only just broke the thirty by the time he got boot to ball. Still, the Eels didn’t make that much headway either, as Bailey Simonsson failed to make a single metre when the Chooks stormed him at his forty, although Mitch Moses did manage to get his first kick in Parramatta territory. He struck it deep, forcing the Roosters to work back from their line, although a couple of big plays then bumped them up the park.
First, Joseph Suaalii started with a deft offload to James Tedesco, then Sitili Tupouniua took a big charge up the right a few plays later, and won a ruck error from Shaun Lane. The Chooks had a full set inside the ten, and showcased a superb left sweep on tackle two, as a mercurial Teddy tap-on put Paul Momirovski into space up the left wing, where only a last-ditch Moses ankle tap gave Clint Gutherson time to slam in on top and finish him off. Sydney had real rhythm now, though, and all it took was a big Angus Crichton charge to set up the first try.
It came off an extraordinary one-man play from big JWH, who received the footy from Hutchison, and turned around, his back to the try line, as if to offload into a big right sweep, only to pivot back to the left and launch himself through a Parramatta defence that had already set their sights on the other side of the park. Sam Walker added the extras, but the Roosters didn’t get to the end of their restart after Siosiua Taukeiaho dropped the ball, while a ruck error from JWH meant it was Parra’s turn to to get a crack from the ten metre zone.
Nevertheless, Teddy still had enough buoyancy left over from the last try to curve around and bring back a Reed Mahoney grubber that would have posed a serious challenge for most other fullbacks in the game. No sooner had Parra reset their line than Hayze Perham got done for a leg pull, but, like the Eels before them, the Roosters were unable to make good on this boost in field position. For the second time in the first ten minutes, the left sweep didn’t come together, as Walker got pinged for a forward tap-on to Momirovski.
From the air, it looked like a tough call. The footy had bounced forward, but the pass looked flat enough, a frustrating outcome for the hosts since Momirovski had flicked it on just as fluidly to Daniel Tupou, who would have had a try under his belt if Walker’s work had been approved. Worse still, Moses busted into space up the right four tackles later, curving around between Walker and Crichton, before dancing over a desperate ankle tap from the former and planting a big fend to throw the latter off balance.
He waited until the last moment to flick it across to Isaiah Papali’i, and with another centimetre Teddy would have got fingertips to it as he leaped between the two men to try and pull off the intercept of his career. Such was Moses’ consummate timing, however, that Tedesco only touched open space, and Mitch knew it too, barking out orders to his troops before booting through the two to lock things up at 6-6 with ten minutes gone on the clock. Sydney were in danger of losing their momentum, so they had to hit back big and fast.
More specifically, Teddy had to reassert himself after failing to shut down this last try – and he did so on his very next opportunity. Suaalii’s run on tackle two had an air of conviction about it, tumbling a couple of metres through the contact to build energy up the left edge, where Walker ended with a grubber that was more subliminal than it seemed, defying Gutherson just as he curved both hands around it, and creating an epic fullback-on-fullback contest as Tedesco shot ahead and only just ground it on the line with Gutho on his back.
So clutchy was the whole sequence that the refs sent it upstairs to show us, in slow motion, just how dexterous the five-eighth-fullback combo had been. Teddy had let through a try, and now Gutho had let through the try, while Walker booted through the first sideline conversion with aplomb, so the onus was back on Parra to prove themselves as the Chooks got stuck into their restart. Instead, this turned into the worst set so far for the blue and gold, as Reagan Campbell-Gillard found himself offside, and Tom Opacic got binned for a high shot on Teddy.
Walker added another two, the Chooks were more than a converted try ahead, and Parra had to work their next one off their line – until JWH became the next player to relieve pressure with a crusher on Perham. Even so, he’d been the best forward on the park today, and he needed to be, since Victor Radley had just left the field for what seemed like an ankle syndesmosis, as Nat Butcher came off the bench. Moses took advantage of the extra position with one of his best boots so far, and it ended with the biggest struggle so far in the chase.
The footy moved between a few hands before Mahoney finally cleaned it up, and was cleaned up in turn, while Suaalii burned off this messiness with a barnstorming break up the right edge to get his men their last two tackles in the red zone. Yet the messiness continued when Luke Keary hesitated just long enough between kicking and passing to allow Shaun Lane to shut down either option, in the first cold drop of the night from Sydney City. Add to that a strong charge from Will Peninisni to force a Hutchison slow peel, and Parra had a good shot here.
It turned into their best position since Opacic headed to the bin when Butcher got done for infringing the ruck, but even a full set in the Roosters’ twenty couldn’t produce points here. By the final play, Moses was extemporising with a flamboyant wide ball out to Simonsson, who responded with a grubber back in field, where Papali’i would have scored one of the best tries of his career if he’d managed to ground it before tumbling into touch. For the moment, Parra seemed to have exhausted their ingenuity, leaving space for Sydney to hit back.
Walker was the man, showing Simonsson and Papali’i how to perfect both the kick and putdown with a superb sequel to Reyno’s old-school chip-and-chase against Manly on Friday night. Finding himself with the footy on the left side of the park, he popped it over Gutho’s head, and got an equally subliminal bounce as his Teddy assist, but knew his own boot well enough to read it perfectly. Taking it on the chest, he was always going to score this four, just as he was always going to make it 20-6 from directly in front.
In keeping with the volatile spirit of this particular match, however, the Roosters never got to the end of the restart, as Watson and Keary clamoured for a Nathan Brown shoulder charge on Suaalii two plays in, but eventually opted not to send it upstairs, despite the fact that their no. 2 also seemed to be indicating that Ryan Matterson’s contact had been less than legal. Parra had a much-needed scrum from the twenty, and then a restart off a Walker offside, before Matto proved himself off the bench with a big barnstorming run up the left edge.
He took another run on tackle three, but the Eels were spending too much of the set on front-on charges, and Moses knew it, saving the day with a crafty grubber that ricocheted off Crichton’s left boot and forced Teddy to pop it dead just over the try line. Teddy also kicked the dropout, and this time the visitors started sweeping earlier, building pressure on the right before Gutho chipped back to the left, where Dylan Brown leaped up to tap it back, and Suaalii knocked it even further back, with a touch that conceded yet another six tackles.
It was the biggest accumulation of position all night, along with the most volatile period of play, so a try here might have been enough to restore the blue and gold flow for the last ten minutes. Simonsson came agonisingly close on the right edge, but Crichton made up for ricocheting the Moses grubber with a heroic ankle tap to ensure that by the time Bailey got the Steeden down the tackle was complete. For a moment, this exhausted both sides, sinking us into one of the most sustained set-for-set sequences of the evening.
It didn’t last long, however, since a Tupou error and Walker offside got Parra another stint on the Sydney line. Keary delivered a smashing tackle on Dylan Brown up the left, but Gutho mirrored Moses’ last grubber on the right, forcing Walker to tap it dead. Even with the last set-for-set period, the Eels had dominated position over the last fifteen minutes, with 28-4 tackles in the opposition half and 19-0 in the twenty. They got more when Tupouniua infringed the ruck – and three minutes from the break, this had to be their comeback.
Matto took another big run on the fourth, and Mahoney built on with a mad charge towards the posts, but he couldn’t make it through the defence, while this bout of position ended with Moses putting down the footy a play later. The Roosters had put in some of their best defence in weeks, and got one more chance when Makahesi Makatoa was called offside ninety seconds from the sheds. They didn’t score a try, but Walker still stamped this as a Tricoloured forty with a one-point field goal right on the siren as the Sydney supporters went wild.
It’s been eight seasons since the Chooks scored twenty first half points and gone on to lose the game, so the Eels had a big job on their hands when they returned from the sheds. Matterson was still fired up on tackle two, but Parra didn’t make all that much headway, while Teddy took Moses’ first bomb back without any hint of a chase, so the Roosters were back over the opposition forty by the time Keary took his kick. Both teams had got through their first set without incident, as the tension continued to mount.
The next pair of sets couldn’t have been more different, as Matto tried to pop an offload out to Mahoney, but hadn’t contended with Butcher tapping it back for Crichton to clean up. A wayward pass cost the Chooks twenty metres by the time Walker contained it behind the forty, and yet this just served as the fulcrum for Momirovski to charge up the left edge and flick an offload back to Tupou. The Giraffe couldn’t break through, but it didn’t matter, since this sequence re-energised the set into a superb sweep back out to the right wing.
In the most poetic passing of the night, Keary sent a basketball pass out to Joey Manu, who responded by mirroring Momirovski’s flick, but under even clutchier conditions, delivering an NBA move of his own as he bounced it past Tupouniua to Suaalii, who took it clean and smashed over for another four. From the air, it looked like Sitili had got hands to it, and the Parra supporters were certainly clamouring for a forward knock-on, but the footy must have just cleared his grasp, since the touch judge was well placed to read the contact.
Walker missed his first conversion of the night, and this small sign of vulnerability turned out to be enough for Parramatta to start working their way towards the Roosters’ imposing 25 point tally. While the Chooks had been impressive on their actual tryscoring sequences, they hadn’t done all that much on the restarts, and so it was here, as Keary ended with a pretty standard kick, giving the opposition enough time to put Matto over halfway on tackle four, where the ex-Tiger won another six off a ruck error from Watson.
For the second time tonight, Moses and Papali’i now combined for a try out of nowhere, as Mitch flicked a flat one out for Isaiah to take advantage of some Walker-Crichton miscommunication and slice past Butcher to hit the chalk untouched, before Moses bookended it all by adding the extras to bring us to a thirteen-point game. This was superb leadership from Moses, and he bolstered his two try assists on the restart (and showed the Chooks how to execute a restart) by slamming over himself for four more.
He did so by invoking and outplaying Walker’s reprisal of Reynolds’ chip-and-chase, for an individual play that eclipsed anything we’ve seen so far in Magic Round this year. Running the Steeden up the short side, he came as close to touch as possible, leaving his left boot just in the park, before reaching up his right boot and striking the footy a second before he made contact with the chalk. Having tiptoed so dextrously on the cusp of touch, he curved into it and regreeted the Steeden to toe it for a second time with all the tactility of a perfect pass.
He was always going to plant the footy down on the bounce, and convert his own try, suddenly bringing us to a seven point margin with twenty-five minutes left on the clock. Now that the score had narrowed, both teams stuck to a more conservative game, ferrying it from end to end as Moses continued to accelerate. No surprise, then, that the next tipping-point came when he launched himself at the line, and then sent up a well-judged Captain’s Challenge to prove that he’d got to his feet before Crichton denied him the play-the-ball.
As an apotheosis of Moses’ vision and judgement during the second stanza, this had the potential to be a real tipping-point, especially when Parra received another six off a ruck error from Keary. In the first forty the Eels might not have delivered here, but now they were ready to follow the example of their halfback, as Matto channelled all his energy off the bench to show that he could dodge fast as any backliner as he received a short ball from RCG and beat JWH, Suluka-Fifita, Keary, Tedesco, and a second JWH shot, all from ten metres out.
Full credit to Junior Paulo, too, for the offload to Mahoney that set up RCG’s pass in the first place. Moses might have led Parra for the first three tries, but they’d showed they could score without him, while setting him up for another conversion. The final quarter arrived, and we were sitting at a 25-24 game, pure footy spectacle as Suluka-Fifita took out his frustration by banging in for a bone-rattling hit on Paulo. Even so, the Roosters needed pure perfection to silence the Eels now, and that’s just what they delivered in an instantly iconic play.
It was a perfect fusion of veteran and young gun, as Keary booted a pinpoint bomb to the right wing, where Suaalii momentarily transformed into an AFL sharpshooter, climbing so high above Perham that he was basically kneeling on his shoulders when he took the Steeden in both hands, before tumbling to ground so forcefully that Opacic was never going to hold him up. Walker might have missed the kick, but this was still a watershed moment for Suaalii, a crystallation and justification of the hype that’s followed him from day one at Sydney.
We now entered the most volatile period of the game, but also the quietest period of the game, as adrenalin surged from end to end, waiting for one team to take advantage of it (or succumb to it) and a hush settled over a Suncorp crowd who had now arrived at the quiet eye of tonight’s footy hurricane. Eleven minutes out from the end, Gutho built some rhythm to leap above Taukeiaho and Manu to prevent another try off a Keary kick, but the Chooks were winning the overall battle of field position, raring for their next bump up the park.
They got their shot when Dylan Brown booted his next one towards the left sideline, only for it to bounce up and hit the corner post on its way into touch. At this point in the game, a twenty-metre tap and an extra tackle meant everything, so the hosts kept it methodical for the first half of the set, carving up the metres without trying anything fancy, before Keary finally elasticised with a cut-out to the right edge, where Manu took it on the hop, and managed to offload out to Tupouniua, who met a massive Parra pack right on the sideline.
Nevertheless, he managed to flick some third phase back to Suaalii, who opted for fourth phase only for Lane to slam in and knock it on. Finally, the Roosters had a full set from close-range, so it was enormous when Dylan Brown came in chest-to-chest on another Tupouniua crash play, wrapping his arms around him and then tumbling on top to force the footy free. It had the potential to be the decisive tackle of the entire game – until Brown was put on report for high contact, minutes after the fact, turning a changeover into a Walker penalty kick.
In a way, then, this did turn out to be the decisive tackle, since it put the Chooks beyond a converted try lead, while the replay suggested Brown was lucky to remain on the field as Tupouniua walked off the whiplash. Sydney were sitting at fourth on the live ladder, Parra were sitting at sixth, and there were six minutes left on the clock. A win wasn’t beyond the blue and gold, but they had to circle the wagons, and couldn’t afford to make a single mistake, while Moses had to inspire one of the big playmakers to step up – or step up again himself.
They spread it well on the penultimate play of the next set, gaining ground and approaching the right wing through a series of elegantly timed passes, but the Roosters survived, even if they had to work it off their own line. Teddy made ten post-contacts, and Keary booted it deep into the Parramatta red zone, but even so Moses was back in Sydney territory midway through the count, while his men reprised the sweeping initiative of the last set, but up the left this time, where Dylan Brown got into space for a potential chip-and-chase to the wing.
Instead, he struck it too hard, so it was even more agonising when the replay showed that Gutho had been looming up in his blind spot with clear passage all the way to the line. The Eels had blown their final shot, but they can still hold their heads high, and rally around Moses’ leadership, as they prepare to take on Manly next week. On the other side of the Steeden, the Roosters have bounced back from unexpected struggles against the Bulldogs and Titans, and need that belief to take on a Penrith outfit flushed from beating Melbourne.