Sydney’s Roosters could’ve been forgiven for starting slowly against North Queensland. After a tumultuous five weeks, with losses and controversy tearing the club apart, this was expected to be a difficult clash for the Bondi boys. But they came out all guns blazing, scoring a try after just 53 seconds and adding another just three minutes later to take a 10-0 lead.
But the home side managed to claw back the lead and eventually overtake the visitors to take a well-deserved win without stars Johnathan Thurston, Matt Bowen and Luke O’Donnell.
The Game Swung When... Mitchell Pearce had a chance to win the match with just minutes remaining. Trailing 24-22, the Roosters’ halfback found open space deep inside his own territory to race downfield and to within 20 metres of the Cowboys’ tryline.
With defenders honing in on a decelerating Pearce, the former NSW no.7 opted to throw an optimistic pass inside to the supporting Sisa Waqa. But the pass didn’t find the man and the Cowboys regained possession. Game over.
Who Was Hot... Aaron Payne did beautifully to direct his team to a victory without the core of stars historically needed to lead the Cowboys to victory. Usually without Thurston, the Cowboys were easy-beats.
Payne was instrumental, picking up a try, setting up two others and keeping the Roosters’ woeful defence guessing all match. Without him the Cowboys wouldn’t have won.
Who Was Not... Roosters half Mitchell Pearce continues to try hard but struggled to get the necessary results for his club.
On numerous occasions Pearce kicked when he should’ve ran, or passed when he should’ve held onto the ball. In their current form slump, it’s those mid-level-experience players like Pearce who coach Brad Fittler expects to stand up.
Pearce kicked out on the full, kicked the ball dead in attack and came up with two crucial errors. Fittler and Roosters fans would’ve been disappointed.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed... Frank-Paul Nuuausala’s hit on Ty Williams in the dying moments of the first half had people talking.
Following a bomb, Nuuausala chased through – but had eyes only for Williams. As the Cowboys’ stand-in fullback prepared to take the bomb with arms extended, the Roosters’ forward sprinted directly at the no.1 and smashed him – without the ball. It came free but referee Jason Tony De Las Heras awarded a penalty for tackling the man without the ball. Had it been legal Nuuausala’s brutal crunch would’ve received many votes for hit of the year.
Refs Watch... Jason Robinson and Tony De Las Heras controlled this match, and for the most part kept the game flowing. Just 12 penalties were blown and the only points of debate post-match centred on their ruling of Michael Bani’s sin-binning after a strip and the decision not to sin-bin Nuuausala following his hit on Williams.
Injuries... Roosters fans would’ve wondered how it could’ve got possibly worse for their team entering this clash... but it has after the loss and season-ending injury to star five-eighth Braith Anasta.
In a sickening incident, the no.6 attacked the line before one leg was secured and another tackler brought him to ground. In the motion of the tackle, Anasta twisted awkwardly as he fell. Such was his pain, after falling to the ground he started punching the turf.
It was revealed his left ankle was both broken and dislocated, ending his 2009 campaign.
NRL.com Best & Fairest... 3 points – Aaron Payne (Cowboys): Led from the front in another impressive performance without his superstar team-mates; 2 points – Shane Tronc (Cowboys): Charged for 189 metres and provided space for the backs; 1 point – Sam Perrett (Roosters): Ran for 245 metres and broke 11 tackles in another strong effort at fullback.
Cowboys 24 (C Webb, T Burns, A Payne, S Southern tries; J Williams 4 goals) def Roosters 22 (B Jones, S Shackleton, A Cherrington, M Aubusson tries; Craig Fitzgibbon 3 goals) at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Crowd: 13,486.