ROUND 5: Sydney Roosters v. Parramatta Eels (Allianz Stadium, 30/3/23, 28-20)
The news of Joseph Suaalii signing with Rugby Australia didn’t dent the Roosters’ spirit when they rocked up to host the Eels at Allianz on Thursday. Nor did losing James Tedesco at the twenty-fourth minute, when Bailey Simonsson came in for the nastiest shot of the year so far. Joey Manu was willing and able, but Suaalii stepped into the fullback role, and will likely remain there with Teddy out for the requisite eleven days, as the Chooks kept the Eels tryless until the second stanza, and weathered a final five minute surge to come away with 28-20.
The Roosters had first touch of the football, with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves taking the opening charge, Victor Radley embarking upon his century game by setting his sights on Mitchell Moses on the fourth, and Sam Walker booting his first one just shy of halfway. Parramatta had delivered a strong defensive set, and the Chooks responded in kind, although a strong charge from Ryan Matterson, and a dummy and run from Josh Hodgson got them some significant position, only for the ex-Raider to not realise that his carry was the last.
Nevertheless, with Walker knocking on a precarious flick offload from Lindsay Collins a beat later, the Eels had another chance to get to their kick, as Gutho created space for Wiremu Greig to bend the line back on the left edge, before Maika Sivo found himself with nowhere to move at the end of a rapid left edge raid, and so dropped the footy as the Sydney defence crowded in. Finally, at the end of the third Parramatta set, Moses got boot to ball, launching a towering bomb to make up for lost time, but not getting all that much depth on it.
Accordingly, Bryce Cartwright toed it a second time, but weighted it too hard, gifting the Roosters an extra tackle to start rivalling the blue and gold’s field position. Teddy capitalised immediately, dancing up the middle, popping it out for Collins to stick his nose through the line, and then taking the footy back from his frontrower for the first break of the night. Sailing up field, he gave it to Luke Keary, who would have scored if not for a superb trysaver from Simonsson, as this rapid Roosters acceleration temped a Penisini-Walker professional foul.
For a moment, it looked like Sydney City would parlay this straight into a try for their centenarian, as Radley took on the chalk to the right of the posts, only for Gutho to deliver an even more spectacular trysaver than Simonsson. It’s almost impossible to stop Radley at close range at full pelt, so the Parramatta fullback had to wrap his whole body around his quarry, and then stick out his boot at just the right moment to ensure that, when Radley inevitably got a hand free and shaped to place the footy, he only made contact with Gutho’s toes.
Still, the Roosters had real momentum now, and came agonisingly close to scoring again on the very next set, when Teddy again showed his genius at the defensive line. Digging in, he abruptly shifted it out to Keary, who reined it in with his right hand, and popped it out to Tupou a millisecond before Moses belted him to ground. From there, the Giraffe sped along the sideline, choosing the optimal moment to lob it back in field to Joseph Suaalii, who sent it across for Egan Butcher to sail into open space where Penisini would usually be defending.
However, in a major letoff for the Eels, the try was denied due to some holding back from Keary, while the blue and gold got first points on the board when Brandon Smith tried to restore the rhythm with a strip on Greig a set later. Three plays into their next set, the Roosters rapidly shifted to the left, creating a bit of wiggle room for Suaalii, who put in a couple of big left foot steps to defy the ankle tap from Moses, and then shift it back inside to his captain, who was downed by Dylan Brown, but played it fast enough to keep the flow.
Just as the Chooks had delivered the fastest left sweep of the night, so they now delivered the fastest right sweep, culminating with an enormous harbour bridge ball from Walker that cleared half the width of the park before Jaxson Paulo bent down to take it low, and immediately straightened to dodge around three defenders and flick it out for Drew Hutchison to plant it down untouched. It was the third time Sydney City had crossed the chalk tonight, and this time they got on the board, with Walker adding the edge conversion.
Moses sent his next one over the sideline to get his men some breathing space, and to force the Roosters to work it out of their own ten, and not even Tedesco could make much of a dent in the Parra defence this time, while a Radley knock-on into a Hodgson hit meant this was officially their worst set of the game, and a critical opening-point for the visitors to rebuild their rhythm. Like the Tricolours, they opted for a rapid left sweep early in the count, but for the second time Sivo was trapped on the edge, and smashed by Paulo over the sideline.
Determined not to let this next set die with a whimper, Tupou took on the line on tackle one, aiming for a break but still mustering some decent post-contact metres. Keary was within the opposition forty when he put boot to ball, and landed it inside the Parramatta ten, where Suaalii slammed in to ensure Gutho couldn’t deliver a return. Conversely, Tedesco fielded Moses’ next bomb, and quickly flicked it out for Suaalii to make room for Hutchison to bring it all the way back to the cusp of the thirty by the time Blake matched him for speed.
JWH anchored the second half of the set by slamming straight into a combined hit from Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Makahesi Makatoa, before a shallow kick from Keary ushered in the most volatile period of the game. The footy falconed off Tupou, and Simonsson flicked it out to Gutho, who knocked it along the ground to Brown, who couldn’t move an inch as Radley and Nat Butcher tumbled on top of him. The error came from Gutho, but it was Simonsson who took out the frustration of this sequence off the Chooks’ subsequent scrum.
Launching late into Teddy, he made brutal shoulder-face contact, resulting in both men leaving the park, and Parramatta defending with twelve men for the second time in the first forty. Moses stepped up with a superb show of leadership on the very next set, coming in for a heroic legs tackle that prevented what looked like a certain Tupou try, hard and tough enough to send the Steeden spinning into mid-air as Tedesco headed to the sheds, his night over with what would turn out to be a Category 1, leaving him sidelined for eleven days.
The Giraffe hit back at the end of Moses’ next bomb, with his best return so far, but knocked on again at the end of the same set. Sydney were the closest they had come to crisis mode all game, and it was a good steadier when Radley came in hard and low to force a Dylan Brown cough-up midway through the next count. Again, though, Tupou was unable to deliver on the left, this time due to a boucing cut-out from Suaalii and some solid Penisini cover, andso the Chooks swung it back to the right, where Hutchison went for a double.
Instead, Brown mirrored Moses’ superb trysaver on the other wing with a legs tackle at the death, but a soaring Suaalii kick, a glimpse of his future in Rugby, gave way to a successful Roosters challenge to prove that a supposed loose carry from Nat Butcher had been due to Dylan Brown crowding in – an important motivator as word came down from the sheds that Tedesco would not be rejoining the fray tonight. Finally on his fourth go, Tupou smashed over on the left, pulling his gangly legs in at the death to defy a Penisini near-trysaver.
It was Tupou’s 136th try for the Chooks, putting him only three away from Anthony Minichiello at 139, while a Walker shank to the left of the posts kept this to a 10-2 lead, not a bad result for Parra given the hosts’ dominance in attack over the last thirty-five minutes. Simonsson was back on the restart, Walker bombed from halfway, Sivo collected it, albeit falling backwards with the momentum of the Steeden, and Parra got a precious chance to drive it into Roosters territory off a shove in the back for Paulo, as Carty hit the thirty on play two.
It all ended with Moses chipping from the ten, and without much of a challenge beneath it, Hutchison took it clean, and didn’t even have to work hard to avoid the dropout. Ever the clinician, Walker compensated for even this brief deficit in position, and attempted a 40/20 in the process, by booting it early on his own thirty. He didn’t nab the angle, but he still ensured that the Eels wouldn’t garner the same territory this time – or at least that’s how it initially appeared, until Penisini booted it at speed up the right on the last, but too hard.
Now the Chooks had another tackle in their arsenal to put this brief burst of Parramatta position behind them, although they only needed three, since Smith now stepped into the spotlight, synergizing the spine in Tedesco’s absence, for the best eyes-up footy of the night. Taking advantage of Moses not being square at marker, he swiveled across the park, the Parramatta halfback helpless to prevent his passage, and flicked it out for Walker to break through the line and then shift it in for Keary to cross untouched beside the left padding.
An eight point deficit would have been an impressive result for Parramatta, but 16-2, after a successful Walker conversion, was a more imposing prospect as they headed to the sheds. They made good metres on the first set back, culminating with a strong charge from RCG that got Brown to the opposition forty by the time he put boot to ball. On the other side of the Steeden, Walker fumbled slightly before his next kick, under pressure from Hodgson, who was storming in across the field, but didn’t end up compromising the Sydney halfback’s aim.
Parra continued to build position on the next set, thanks to a ruck error from Naufahu Whyte, and were inside the twenty by the penultimate play, when Hodgson ran into the brick wall of Radley. With that hit, the attack seemed absorbed, only for Penisini to respond with the best assist of the game to cement some Moses-Gutho magic on the right edge. Mitch drifted into the line, showing it to create space for Gutho, who sent it on for Peninsini to drive into Corey Allan, turn back inside, and pop the flick pass of the night back inside for his captain.
Not even Gutherson was expecting this pass, which took the whole park by surprise, but the moment he registered it he read it brilliantly, planting it down before Moses brought this superb sequence full circle by slotting the two through the uprights. Penisini and Allan met again late in the restart on the right edge, and while the Parra backliner couldn’t manage a second genius clutch play, his kick ricocheted off Keary, forced an offside, and provided Parra with a repeat set, which became a full set in the twenty with a lazy Smith-Moses high shot.
This had been the best blue and gold flow of the night, so it made sense the Eels chose to tap and go here, since a try now, with Teddy off for the remainder of the night, might just be enough to shift the entire rhythm of this match. Unfortunately, Hodgson knocked on a few plays later, and the visitors wasted their challenge in an attempt to prove that Radley had made the initial error, as the Chooks got a fresh burst of energy with JWH and Collins coming off the bench, as Brendan Hands and J’maine Hopgood left the pine at the same time too.
Big Jared might only have been in his second stint of the season, but he played a key role in driving the Eels back towards their own line on this next set, and with RCG coughing it up one cusp of his thirty, and no challenge left in Parra’s arsenal, the visitors’ run of form had ebbed for the moment. Play now paused for Simonsson to leave the park for the second time tonight, but for his own HIA rather than for causing one, and in the minutes it took for Jack Murchie to leave the bench, and both sides to pack the scrum, the Roosters had regathered.
Accordingly, they tempted a ruck error from Carty on tackle one, and then an error from Hands, winning themselves a full set in the twenty, most of it spent in the ten, before sweeping right for a third burst of position, where they got yet another restart, off a Sivo error. Just like that, they’d eclipsed Parramatta’s last great accumulation of territory, and with a Hopgood error producing a scrum, a Sivo error following a few plays later, and Carty bookending it all with another ruck error, it felt inevitable that the Roosters would score.
They had to score too, since with six straight sets in the opposition twenty, and one of the densest increases in position for any team this season, they ran the risk of conceding all that momentum back to the Eels if they capitulated to an error now. Conversely, when they did nab the four points, it had the heft of all that territory behind it, as Suaalii drove the Steeden into the line on the right, and flicked an underarm no-looker out to Paulo, a superb fusion of strength and dexterity that made this feel like the essential winning moment for Sydney.
Walker might have missed another kick, but he made up for it with style at the end of the next Parramatta set, in a superb battle of the halfbacks that started with Gutho mirroring his own wide ball from the first forty with a soaring harbour bridge pass to Moses. Mitch had room to move, and would have busted through if not for a last-ditch hit from his opposing no. 7, who made it back-to-back trysavers when he surged in for a bootlace tackle on Gutho himself. The last quarter had arrived but there were still twenty points to be scored tonight.
Sivo found himself with the football at the end of the next Parra set and had just enough room to barge through Suaalii but opted to kick at speed instead, striking it too heavily to gift the Roosters an extra tackle. Tupou did well to rein in a loose ball from Allan on the left, and Walker hoisted it high for Suaalii, who got both hands on the footy, only to find Gutho coming in for a one-on-one contest right on the line, and the clutchiest of individual strips. The Chooks still got the dropout though, as Matt Doorey headed off for an HIA, and Simonsson returned.
JWH coughed it up on play one, and the hosts sent up a successful challenge to prove an illegal strip from Hopgood, before Walker lined up the penalty kick to make it a fourteen point game. Big Jared took the first carry on the restart as well, while Paulo offered his services to the forward pack a play later, and Jake Turpin continued to prove the small men could do as much up the middle. Gutho let Walker’s bomb bounce, but the Eels survived, shifting it left on the third for Penisini to plant a left fend into Tupou’s face as Allan collaborated to shut him down.
As with the last set, Penisini glimpsed some space up the right, off a Moses-Carty combo, but the no-look offload landed straight in Collins’ outstretched arms. The Chooks had a full set in the opposition half, and came close to brilliance when Walker chased down his own chip, and shaped to flick it back inside, but couldn’t quite get his arms clear. Any frustration was quickly eclipsed, however, by the Roosters’ most succinct and spectacular try of the night, starting with Tupou providing the final moment of backline consolidation with Teddy off the park.
It began with Suaalii taking a Moses bomb and flicking it straight across to the Giraffe, who received it at the ten, slid through an ankle tap from Penisini, accelerated, goose stepped and swerved away from Moses, whose arm was extended awkwardly as he tried and failed to execute the legs tackle, leaving him helpless to stop Tupou flicking it across for Keary to lean into his flow and slam to ground beside the posts. Sydney City were twenty ahead, and yet the Eels would rally and score their only two consecutive tries in the final five minutes.
The first came off a deft Penisini kick that trapped Paulo behind the line, ushering in a dropout that ended with Simonsson diving over in the right corner, a bitter pill for a Roosters home crowd who surely felt he deserved a send-off for the hit on Tedesco. The second came ninety seconds out, when Sivo smashed over on the other wing, off a Suaalii error, a mollifying conclusion for the Eels. Nevertheless, they’re still only one from four, and a one point win at that, so they’ll be looking for a massive margin when they take on the Tigs on Monday.
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