The Sydney Roosters subdued archrivals South Sydney in a high-quality final-round blockbuster on Thursday night, capitalising on a Rabbitoh sin-binning to open up a big lead, before surviving a late rally. Pending the result of the Cowboys-Sea Eagles clash, the Roosters may have claimed their second straight minor premiership. The gripping duel certainly whetted the appetite for the first week of the finals, where these sides may clash again. Here are 10 thoughts to ponder from the dazzling derby.
Maloney and Pearce rekindling their magic
James Maloney struggled for consistency for much of the season and Mitchell Pearce’s Origin sacking was a shattering blow, but the Roosters’ halves duo is playing as well – if not better – than they were when they steered the club to last year’s title. Pearce was brilliant last night, forcing repeat sets, setting up tries and being a general terrier on both sides of the ball. Maloney has also rediscovered his confidence in attack, along with kicking at a sensational 83 per cent.
Heavyweight battle: SBW d. Burgess by TKO
The hyped contest between Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Burgess turned out to be a fizzer. SBW starred with some brilliant touches in attack in an 80-minute display, but Burgess was as quiet as we’ve seen him all season. He made 35 tackles, but returned only 113 metres from just 13 runs – among his lowest numbers with the ball all season. The Dally M Medal is now out of reach for the Englishman.
How crucial is the sin-bin?
Last week we saw St George Illawarra recover from a 20-point deficit to trail by just two following the farcical sin-binning of Brisbane’s Matt Gillett. When Souths’ Kirisome Auva’a was binned last night – which was totally justified – the Roosters surged from an 8-2 halftime advantage to 22-2 ahead in what had been a close-fought game. The eight NRL coaches that remain in action next week will be drumming into their players how vital it is to keep 13 on the park for 80 minutes.
Why did Inglis not pin the ears back?
It looked like shut the gate, but somehow Mitchell Pearce kept pace with Greg Inglis and the fullback pulled up. The oddest part of the passage, however, was that Inglis didn’t keep running at full clip and pull out a trademark fend; he basically surrendered. It was uncharacteristic, and a crucial moment in the match.
He doesn’t return big fullback numbers anymore and is regularly switched to the wing during games, but Anthony Minichiello is still a valuable member of the Roosters’ title defence. The skipper came up with some massive plays at the back and finished off a brilliant team try – his 15th of the season, the most he’s scored since 2004 – in a fitting last regular season home performance.
Rabbitohs need more from their wingers
They redeemed themselves somewhat with late tries, but Lote Tuqiri and Alex Johnston need to up their involvement in tough, tight games – not just chime in when matches open up. The Souths pair made just 15 runs for 149 metres between them; Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Daniel Tupou made 28 runs for 247 metres. RTS (who admittedly spent some time at fullback) was close to being the best player on the field, racking up 17 carries and threatening throughout.
Roosters deserve title favouritism
The defending champs have firmed for the premiership with their performances in the last fortnight against Melbourne and Souths. The Roosters’ trademark defensive steel, which has been hit-and-miss this season, has returned (aside from the latter stages of last night’s clash) and their attack is crisp, direct and purposeful. The potential absence of Jake Friend for the rest of the season should be adequately covered by Mitch Aubusson and Jackson Hastings, and they will take some beating.
Can Souths recover?
Last season’s final-round loss to the Roosters proved a telling blow to the Rabbitohs’ psyche, with the fancied side ultimately crumbling in the preliminary final to Manly. Dusting themselves off to take on either the Roosters or Sea Eagles next weekend – and avoid a sudden-death semi-final in week two – will be a huge task. But the return of Adam Reynolds will give Souths a boost and, unlike Melbourne last week, they will be confident they can perform much better than they did last night.
Did the Roosters give up their psychological advantage?
Letting Souths back into the game late would have been disappointing for the Roosters and coach Trent Robinson. With a 20-point lead, it was difficult to see the Roosters not progressing straight through to the preliminary final if the clubs were to meet again next week. But the Rabbitohs’ rally was a handy reminder that the defending premiers are still beatable. It eventually finished three tries apiece, with goalkicking proving the difference and the Roosters only just hanging on thanks to some heroics at the back by Minichiello.
Son of a gun looks the goods
His famous surname may subconsciously plant the idea, but some players just look like they’ve got something special the first time you see them. Jackson Hastings, son of Roosters club legend Kevin, is one of those. In the relatively unfamiliar dummy-half role on first grade debut, Hastings made 15 tackles (no misses) and added some classy touches while looking confident and keen in a fine 22-minute stint. The 18-year-old could be a finals wildcard for the Chooks.
Follow Commentary Box Sports on Social Media!