For 30 minutes you had to wonder. Had the Roosters lost it?
Souths certainly held no fear. For half an hour, Friday’s softening-up period was waged on uneven terms.
Forget the record seven sin-binnings of Bloody Sunday last September.
The Roosters were flat-out swinging a punch for the first quarter on Friday night, much less landing one.
Just as Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was running into the fray after 24 minutes of bench warming, Keaon Koloamatangi raced up and belted the Roosters alpha dog in-waiting, Test and Origin prop Lindsay Collins.
Koloamatangi’s was the best shot of the evening, until Lachlan Ilias cut Egan Butcher in half. Tom Burgess threw his weight around with a few contenders as well.
South Sydney didn’t stop all night actually, Joseph Suaalii’s flying outside-in torpedo tackles one of few that answered what was otherwise a Bunnies bash-up.
Daniel Tupou and Joseph Manu celebrate a try.Credit:Getty
Yet another Victor Radley head knock at the 28th minute, courtesy of a clash with Collins, had all and sundry wincing.
With the English international in the hands of the club doctor and Waerea-Hargreaves being swarmed by at least three defenders at a time, you wondered. The Roosters didn’t. Where last year they lost the street fight and their season, this time, down the same dark alleyway, they boxed clever.
At times during a steamy second half they seemed to drop more balls than they caught. But so did Souths as players went down with cramp like they’d been snipered from the stands. And the Roosters under Trent Robinson have never fretted over completion rates.
While Souths held a 10-0 lead and the physical advantage, the Roosters kept their wits.
Robinson’s decision to keep Waerea-Hargreaves and Brandon Smith out of the opening exchanges, and ensure neither man simmered over, saw the pair combine for the Tricolours first try.
Waerea-Hargreaves played the ball with Cameron Murray still underneath him, Smith duly racing away right past where the Rabbitohs skipper would have otherwise been at marker, showing Koloamatangi a clean pair of Nikes in the process. The follow-up – Luke Keary dinking a chip kick over the top for Daniel Tupou to lope over the tryline, was very easy on the eye. Glamorous stuff from the NRL’s glamour club.
So it went after the break. Slowly, surely, the Roosters rage was contained and maintained. Slowly, surely, they inched ahead. So when the contest inevitably did kick off, as the Roosters and Rabbitohs always do, they were in front courtesy of 20 straight points.
With three minutes left, Joey Manu ran down Isaiah Tass for the second time in the match. The first time he belted the ball free with one of the finest try-saving efforts you’d hope to see. The second, he landed himself in the bin, coming over the top from behind with a “careless” tackle as described by referee Gerard Sutton.
Michael Chee Kam joined him for piling into the ensuing fracas with the match review committee to now sort it out.
It is the oldest rivalry in the game after all. The lid was only going to stay on for so long.
The last 90 seconds was proper boiling point stuff as the Rabbitohs chased a win with one final fling.
The Roosters though, will hold dear the lessons learned and implemented from last September’s chaos.
They’ll need them again come round 27, September 1 in the diary, for the next instalment of the best Friday night you’ll find in Sin City.
And let’s be honest, probably again once more after that.
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