South Sydney Rabbitohs 52 def Sydney Roosters 12
IF there were any doubt in punters’ minds as to whether Souths would struggle in 2009, it was erased in less than 10 minutes at the SFS, with the Chris Sandow-inspired side outclassing the Roosters in every facet of the game to beat the clock to the 12-minute mark.
They then went on to land their biggest win against their Eastern Suburbs rivals since re-entering the competition in 2005.
Veteran recruits Rhys Wesser and Colin Best proved they still have what it takes to dominate at NRL level – possibly even representative level – adding the much-needed X-factor into Souths’ slick and comprehensive backline movement.
Last year’s Dally M Rookie of the Year Sandow looked the seasoned pro. The livewire 19-year-old made a mockery of 2006 Australian Schoolboys team-mate and Blues halfback Mitchell Pearce, orchestrating relentless attacking raids on the soft Roosters’ defence and putting to bed any suggestion of suffering from second-year syndrome.
Souths’ mix of genuine playmakers in Sandow, John Sutton and Issac Luke, and experience and flair in outside backs Wesser, Best, Kiwi star Fetuli Talanoa and livewire flyer Nathan Merritt, made the Roosters look simply amateur.
Combine that with the damaging running of forwards Roy Asotasi (14 runs for 129 metres), Luke Stuart (14 runs, 123 metres) and the Rabbitohs looked every bit the premiership contenders, while the rudderless Roosters emerged premiership pretenders.
The Game Swung When... The ref blew time-on. From the outset the Roosters never looked in the contest, Souths defending stringently before putting on points through Colin Best in their first venture into the home side’s half. The 2008 Dally M Winger of the Year fulfilled his promise of points for his new club, turning what looked to be an impossible point-scoring opportunity into a four-pointer after stepping away from and pushing off four defenders from a standing start at the six-minute mark.
And from the ensuing kick-off, winger Nathan Merritt added the first of his three after Roosters and Blues five-eighth Braith Anasta kicked the ball dead from the re-start.
Twelve points down after just 10 minutes, the Roosters were given a glimpse of hope after swooping on a loose ball for Anasta to claim a messy try in broken play… but then Souths struck back just five minutes later.
Who Was Hot… Blues selectors must be searching for even the slightest link to New South Wales ancestry for 19-year-old Sandow, the indigenous Queensland product putting together an Andrew Johns-like performance to seal only the second win for his side over their arch nemesis in four seasons.
The kid dubbed “Aboriginal Alfie” showcased his pinpoint short and long-distance kicking games, setting up a chip-and-chase try for himself and another for former Panther Wesser, while his unpredictable running and passing games could only be described as superb.
For a kid of small stature, his defence was rock-solid, too – a memorable moment coming in the 69th minute when he put up a towering torpedo and chased through to punish Shaun Kenny-Dowall in spectacular fashion with a bone-jarring hit.
Playmaker Sutton wasn’t short on creativity either, embarrassing gifted opposite Braith Anasta to push his claims for the maiden Blues jersey that many thought he deserved last year.
Nathan Merritt (8 runs for 145 metres), Colin Best, Fetuli Talanoa and Wesser are worthy mentions, too.
Who Was Not… Not one of the Roosters’ forwards hit 100 metres for territory gained. End of story.
Again, halfback Mitchell Pearce’s worth was brought into question, the re-signed $400,000-a-year Rooster (4 errors) offering little in attack, direction and kicking options.
Stand-off Anasta (3 errors) tried to add some spark to the attack, but instead brought to the fore the questionable credentials of his backline, which was in every way out-muscled, out-run, out-classed and out-leapt by the formidable Rabbitohs flyers.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall was one of the worst offenders, spilling the ball twice in perfect rugby league conditions and being dominated by opposite Merritt.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Nathan Merritt’s third try would be a favourite to take out the AFL’s Mark of the Year competition; he launched himself high at the expense of Kenny-Dowall to grasp a towering John Sutton bomb in the 45th minute.
Bad Boys… The Roosters were too tired to raise their fists or throw a ball in anger, while Souths had nothing but points on their minds.
Ref Watch… Yet another affirmation of the positive effect of the NRL’s dual referee system. Steve Lyons and Shayne Hayne allowed a fast, exiting and free-flowing game without drawing any attention to themselves – despite wearing pink uniforms.
Little time-wasting, minimal penalties and they referred to the video referee only once.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Chris Sandow (Rabbitohs): An absolute breath of fresh air, Sandow’s dominant display of running, kicking and passing bamboozled the Roosters’ defence; 2 points – John Sutton (Rabbitohs): Proving there’s plenty of life in the Rabbitohs without Craig Wing, Sutton’s exemplary kicking game and calculated attacking plays (three great offloads) were the perfect foil for Sandow’s electrifying and unpredictable play. He brings structure and genuine play-making ability to the No.6 jumper; 1 point – Nathan Merritt (Rabbitohs): Clearly improved defence and confidence under the high ball – combined with his blistering speed and natural talent – make him one of the most dangerous attacking players in the comp.
Rabbitohs 52 (N Merritt 3, F Talanoa 2, E Pettybourne, C Sandow, R Wesser, C Best tries; C Sandow 5, I Luke 3 goals) def Roosters 12 (B Anasta, J Friend
tries; C Fitzgibbon 2 goals) at the SFA. Crowd: 24,486.