Roosters 26 Dragons 10
Sydney Roosters vs St George Illawarra Dragons
Mitchell Pearce ready to offload the ball. Photo: Anthony Johnson
That these two teams contested the grand final in 2010 shows how quickly and far the mighty can fall. The Roosters bowed out a week ago, while St George Illawarra will face a steep climb in order not to follow.
The Roosters' 26-10 victory last night was dominated as much by the return to form of halfback Mitchell Pearce as it was by the return to form by his out of contention side. Pearce, under so much pressure of late, scored a hat-trick. It will be too little too late for the finals but it might ensure the Roosters do not end up with the wooden spoon.
The Dragons will remain in the hunt for the finals, but might find themselves in 13th by the end of the round. Of course, if they fail to show the same desperation exhibited by a side with not as much to gain, they will not reach the top eight.
Little had been expected of the Roosters, who had lost three matches straight leading into the game, dropping out of the finals race, and they played in patches like a group of strangers who had come together for a kick-around.
Their first half was far from the type of play you would expect from a rabble. Crisp in attack and strong in defence, they warmed to the contest, and by the break were dominating.
The Dragons' early errors gave the Roosters confidence. The Roosters' first try, through centre Joseph Leilua, gave them more. It came off a simple inside ball from fullback Anthony Minichiello; the fact the centre ran in untouched was astounding for what was a relatively simple play. The alarm bells were ringing.
The Roosters got better as the half went on, gaining momentum and throwing the ball around. Their defence – and the ability of their back three to defuse several bombs that came their way – ensured the Dragons were frustrated. One bomb in particular, from five-eighth Nathan Fien, was taken by winger Tautau Moga, who strode half the length of the field. The only attacks that had been created by the Roosters' defence were vitriol from the grandstand, but last night, they regularly countered.
The Dragons finally cracked again after the half-time siren, as they threw the ball around in their own half, searching for their own confidence. But the ball went loose, centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall showed more urgency to pick it up, and then his one-handed offload was followed by another by Brad Takairangi, whose pass found Pearce to score.
Just 12,528 had turned up to watch, but most of them stood to applaud the Roosters. Their side had clearly made a stand themselves.
The Dragons looked stung. At least they responded in the second half. Their tempo lifted, and while the Roosters extended their lead through a Braith Anasta penalty goal, they looked more likely to get over the line.
They looked even more likely when Leilua was sent to the sin-bin for a professional foul. Dragons centre Chase Stanley had scooped up as loose ball, and was quite wonderfully chased down and ankle-tapped by Takairangi. Hooker Jake Friend finished off the tackle, but then Leilua chimed in to help a Friend out. Referee Matt Cecchin sent the centre straight to the bin. The Dragons immediately took advantage. Second-rower Matt Prior found some space close to the line, and they were back in the contest.
Just five minutes later, they were in again. Fien kicked perfectly and the Dragons had more than one extra man to the contest. The only one they needed, though, was Ben Creagh, who reached high to score.
The Roosters needed to compose themselves. Leilua returned, but still the Roosters were fidgeting around, not quite sure how to hold on to the win. The Dragons' execution let them down, winger Brett Morris touched down twice but the plays were called back for forward passes, while centre Nathan Green lost possession close to the line.
Then the final counter. Winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck grounded the ball in his in-goal, then recovered to scamper down the other end. Who would bob up on the other end of his pass? Pearce, of course, who showed pace to race 60m.
Five minutes later, he finished it off - and maybe the Dragons too.
SYDNEY ROOSTERS 26 (M Pearce 3 J Leilua tries B Anasta 5 goals) bt ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 10 (B Creagh M Prior tries B Hornby goal) at Allianz Stadium. Referee: Matt Cecchin, Gavin Morris. Crowd: 12,528.