The last Grand Final at the slightly modified Olympic Stadium, and making history, Ryan James was the first Titan to appear on the field for an NRL Grand Final, as he gave the Welcome to Country.
We’ll remember it for 2 words.
He’ll come to own that moment for many years to come.
Eastern Suburbs 14 defeated Canberra 8 @ ANZ Stadium
Clive Churchill Medalist: Jack Wighton (Canberra)
Robbo rolled the dice and put Jake Friend into the 17, and after a thorough letdown of a One Republic performance, stupid boring-arse Channel 9 montages narrated by ex-players who can barely speak English, and Ryan James giving the ‘Mal Meninga’s Political Career’ of Welcome to Country speeches, the game began.
Within 3 minutes, Sia Soliola committed the fabled Falcon chargedown on a Luke Keary kick, and the ricochet caused a Falcon to the Roosters trainer (Apparently the players were buggered after 2 minutes), and somehow led to Easts getting a feed 45 out, as they were deemed the attacking team.
You have to think, without that second Falcon, Elliot Whitehead gets the ball and the Raiders at least start their attack 40 out.
Sure, it’s in the rulebook, but it’s all part of the National Roosters League I tell ya!
The Chooks got a dropout from the next set, and the feelgood kid Sam Verrils ran it straight up the guts on the last and scored the opening try after Tarpany missed an assignment.
The Tricolours would attack again, and Victor Radley was taken high, giving Latrell an easy 2 points to push the lead to 8-0.
What I found interesting was that in the opening 20 minutes, there were basically no errors from either team, until Radley knocked on immediately after that penalty goal, and was sent straight to the head bin- He would return.
The problems also continued when Mitch Aubusson was finished 13 minutes into the game, injuring his knee while successfully holding up the Raiders from scoring.
The Raiders strategy against the Easts defence appeared to be a mix of kicking early, spreading the defensive line and looking for an opening, and they got repeat sets inside the 20, but instead of taking 2 points, they went for the try, and the rush defence from the Roosters forced a knock-on.
After half an hour, the Raiders finally wore down the Roosters defensive line, picked a hole, and Jack Wighton crashed over to score virtually unopposed, and the game was back on at 8-6.
Jarrod Croker got called for an escort right on the half-time whistle, although Latrell missed his sideline kick, and it was 8-6 at the break.
It couldn’t have come a moment too soon, because it meant Gus could stop routinely mentioning that the Raiders were running over the top of the Roosters, and that they were going to score in the next 5 minutes.
The halftime entertainment was ‘Darryl’ belting out Horses, and Johnathan Thurston dazzled the crowd, by having the chance to land a kick at goal for $1m, which he shanked horrifically, and was more pissed off about it than his kick that hit the post at the end of the 2015 decider.
YOU SAID BEN HUNT WAS A CHOKER- WHO’S THE CHOKER NOW, JT?
Anyway, once a dejected future Immortal trudged off the ground, both teams blasted out of the sheds for the final 40, and the Raiders came out right up for the fight, and had the Roosters playing guessing games and getting the answers incorrect.
Jake Friend was inserted into the game with half an hour to go, and his leadership became crucial, as his entrance coincided with the moment that very nearly turned the game.
Cooper Cronk was cited for a professional foul for tackling the somewhat heavier Josh Papalii without the ball, earning him 10 in the bin, but ‘fortunately’ avoiding giving away a penalty try.
It was a split second decision, but Cronk had already committed to the tackle, and under the strict letter of the rulebook, the refs were consistent on the call.
Instead of exploiting the man advantage, Raiders took the 2 points and tied the scores at 8, and with the momentum the Green Machine had, I figured it was a matter of when they’d take the lead, with the Chooks looking in more deep-coated shit than a KFC chicken.
But, just as they did last year, the Chooks showed plenty of character, and they held on without Old Man Cronk, but a knock-on from Isaac Liu with 90 seconds left in the bin period was like giving away a 5th tackle penalty, and the last play of the sin bin period nearly killed the Roosters, but Leilua threw a forward pass before Rapana picked up the ball and crossed over.
Cronk was back on seconds later, and the siege was lifted at the hour mark.
I can only imagine about 13 other teams would have been pummeled to death by the sheer weight of pressure from that Raiders onslaught, and conceded 4 or 5 tries.
There was just one problem for the Green Machine- They were playing one the most well-coached defensive teams in modern history, who repelled them time and time again.
The icebreaker for the Roosters was when they finally got a linebreak in the 67th minute, finally giving them a set of 6 inside Raiders territory, and the Tricolours would earn a high tackle penalty and took another shot at a penalty goal, but Latrell hooked another kick, leading to the rare 20m dropout, and amazingly, there was only 10 minutes to go.
As the Raiders made yet another invasion into Easts territory with 9 minutes to go, the next salt inducing moment came when Referee Cummins stuffed up by waving 6 again when a kick came backwards off a Raiders player, when it should have remained the 6th tackle, only to promptly audibly change to what was the correct decision, thereby screwing up the Raiders, who had taken the tackle instead of kicking again, forcing a changeover.
The conspiracies began as to who got in Ben’s ear to change to the correct call- Gerard Sutton still in earshot (The most likely suspect), the Bunker, Uncle Nick, or Peter Beattie in the stands, telling him to fix the game for the Roosters.
The referees got the call right, in a way that screwed the game.
It proved to be decisive, and during the next set, Keary fed one to Latrell, who fired a beauty of a catch and flick pass to Tupou, who drew in the fullback Simonsson (CNK had gone off with cramp), and for the only time all night, James Tedesco broke free, and the champs, after weathering more punches than Rocky facing Ivan Drago in 1985, had scored the first try of the 2nd Half.
After 2 misses, Latrell didn’t make a mistake this time, and it was 14-8 with 7 minutes left, but there was definitely still another twist in this gripping tale.
Amazing- The Raiders set up 766 chances and can’t score, and then the Chooks get a small window, and execute to perfection.
Having gained the momentum, the Chooks just about went into survival mode with 4 minutes to go, which was just asking for trouble, but they were able to pin the Raiders in their own half twice, until a kick for touch ended up clattering off Bateman (Which he didn’t play at), and thus, the Raiders had 80 seconds to go 60 metres, setting up a thrilling finish.
It looked like they could complete part 1 of the miracle, when Leilua broke out down the right edge, but some last grasp razzle dazzle play didn’t work, and fittingly, Cronk fell on the ball as time ran out.
History had been made- The Roosters became the first team since the ’92-93 Broncos to go back to back, and the first in the NRL era.
I imagined after the game that Ben Cummins was going to get the Clive Churchill for his impact on the game, but instead, it went to Jack Wighton, who was a pretty clear cut choice IMO, and he walked up to the dais to a chorus of undeserved boos, to become the fourth player to win the medal in a losing team.
Funnily enough, Bradley Clyde, who won the medal when the Raiders lost in 1991, was on the stage.
While all that was going on, due to the widely-liked Roosters winning, featuring those questionable moments from the officials, the Twittersphere was hit with a nuclear meltdown not seen since Three Mile Island, and it led to the Anti-Chook brigade, like this Souths fan, to voice their displeasure at the state of Rugby League.
Hey Russ, how many Souths fans does it take to change a lightbulb?
None, because you’re all living in the Roosters’ shadow.
Fortunately (Or unfortunately), Sticky Ricky didn’t join in the post-game meltfest, which he was perfectly entitled to, but this isn’t the Ricky Stuart of 12 years ago, punching holes in coaches boxes, and he played a reserved straight bat.
Given what this Raiders team accomplished in 2019, I’d wager he was a 9% alcoholic cocktail of gutted at the result, and proud of his boys.
They say defence wins premierships.
Go on about trainers and referees interfering in the game, but this Roosters team is proof of that statement.
FLUKE TIPPING UPDATE: Stumps
‘Please’ (Not sure what Pleae is) refer to me now by my proper title: JT, The 406th Best NRL Tipster on FootyTips.