It was meant to be a tale of two halves pairings, but it was the opposing packs that provided, literally, bang for the punter's buck as the Roosters eventually triumphed 32-12 over the Bulldogs in a fiery clash at ANZ Stadium on Friday.
In the end it was the class of a former Bulldogs favourite son that sunk the competition leaders, with Sonny Bill Williams turning in his best performance of the year, touching down for two tries - including the match-sealer in the 67th minute - as well as laying on another for winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall.
Pre-game all eyes were on dumped NSW halfback Mitch Pearce as he lined up for his first game since being axed from Laurie Daley's Blues squad, but the big boppers produced more fire and brimstone than a biblical epic throughout a brutal first half to steal the spotlight from the returning halfback in front of a crowd of more than 19,000.
With neither pack giving an inch in a battle that grew fiercer by the minute, emotions spilled over in the 38th minute, and Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Bulldogs upstart David Klemmer were lucky not to spend time in the bin after running a half marathon to get involved in a melee sparked by a high shot from Roosters prop Sam Moa on Michael Ennis. The resulting penalty to the Dogs cut the Roosters advantage to 10-8 after the premiers had scored the opening two tries.
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Two second half tries to Roosters skipper Anthony Minichiello gave the Roosters breathing space as the contest wore on, and the Chooks eventually prevailed over a brave Bulldogs outfit without regular halves pairing Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson, as well as left-edge wrecking-ball Tony Williams and international three-quarter Josh Morris.
While Pearce and former Blues offsider James Maloney had dominated the headlines leading into the match, it was Dogs' tyro Moses Mybe who fired the first shots in the playmaking battle, slipping his way across the line in the 12th minute off the back of a Mitch Brown bat-down. However, the four-pointer was contentiously overturned by the video refs, who deemed the Noosa junior had knocked on in grounding the ball.
Video officials Steve Chiddy and Luke Phillips were in the thick of it again in the 17th minute, hitting the wrong button to take a debut try off Roosters winger Nene MacDonald, though on-field referee Ashley Klein was quick to clarify and award the opening four-pointer after the Papua New Guinean national flew high above opposite Corey Thompson to claim a kick from Maloney.
As is his way whenever coming up against his former club, Williams made his presence known early, stepping his way past Greg Eastwood for the Tri-colours' second five minutes later, with Maloney converting to push the lead into double figures.
Playing with the confidence fostered by seven straight wins however, the Dogs were quick to hit back, with young Mbye again troubling the Roosters defence. The stand-in No.7 threw a sharp cut-out ball off the back of a right foot step, putting Brown on the outside of his man for the 26-year-old to find his way over the line and bring the deficit back to 10-6, before the Roosters defended their own line grimly for five repeat sets leading into half-time.
The second half had the same to-and-fro nature as the first, with Brown's second try of the night in the 58th minute dragging the home side back into the contest after Minichiello's first four-pointer 10 minutes earlier. Yet Krisnan Inu's conversion, which bounced away off the upright, left the competition leaders two in arrears with the final quarter of the match looming.
Not done tormenting the Blue and White faithful, Williams then put the match beyond doubt when he followed up a sublime yet possibly forward offload for Kenny-Dowall's 65th minute try with another four-pointer of his own, crashing over from close range just three minutes later.
Minichiello's successful chase of a Maloney grubber to complete his own double sealed the Roosters' third win in four starts, re-igniting their premiership defence after their dismal last-start loss to the Cowboys. Sydney Roosters 32
(A Minichiello 2, S Williams 2, N Macdonald, S Kenny-Dowall tries; J Maloney 4 goals) defeated Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 12
(M Brown 2 tries; K Inu 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: