Greg Chappell once said, “It’s hard to play with confidence when you haven’t got any.” Chappell knew what he was talking about. As great a batsman as he was, his dire run of ducks in the early 1980s shook him to the core. The Roosters have had a similarly terrible run in the past couple of months, losing six on the trot going into Saturday night’s clash.
And yet, somehow, against the Sharks, the Roosters did play with confidence. And verve. And commitment. It was their best and gutsiest performance of the year, and they thoroughly deserved the two competition points and the chance to belt out the club song for the first time since May 2.
The Roosters came out to hit and hurt in defence, and unlike in recent weeks, they maintained this attitude for the duration of the match. In fact, when things went against them, such as Cronulla jagging a couple of tries against the run of play in the first half, the Roosters actually upped their defensive intensity in the ensuing sets. One time, they forced the Sharks to kick from inside their own 10-metre line on the last tackle through sheer muscling-up and speed off the line. It was stirring stuff, and it would have gladdened the hearts of the Roosters’ faithful at the Sydney Football Stadium, as well as beleaguered coach Brad Fittler and his distinguished helper Artie Beetson.
The home side still looked unconvincing a lot of the time in attack, but no-one could fairly accuse the forwards of not running with gusto. In this department, special mention goes to Willie Mason, who’s copped some criticism this year for fading out of matches, and the old warhorse Craig Fitzgibbon. Both were inspirational with ball in hand, Fitzgibbon even managing a line break in the first half. Behind a pack going forward, halfback Mitchell Pearce had his best game of the year. More on him later.
Despite the Roosters’ lively start, it was Cronulla who scored first when fullback Nathan Stapleton took advantage of a defensive misread by Mitchell Aubusson to cross out wide.
The Roosters levelled through a solo try to Pearce, but it was the Sharks who went to the break leading 12-6 courtesy of a try from a two-kick movement on the bell.
At that point, the night could have gone either way for the Roosters, but they took charge early in the second half and never took their foot off the accelerator. If they can finish the season by consistently playing with the level of enthusiasm and desire they showed against the Sharks, they’ll surely the avoid wooden spoon and build themselves a launch pad into a more fruitful 2010.
The defeat ended the Sharks’ four-match winning streak, but the visitors – operating without their suspended playmaker Trent Barrett – were far from disgraced. They were just marginally out-enthused on the night.
The Game Swung When... the Roosters scored two tries in the space of three minutes early in the second half, turning a 6-12 deficit into an 18-12 lead. The second of these four-pointers was a long-range beauty, finished in style by the under-rated Shaun Kenny-Dowall. From that point, the home side just had to play keen and smart, and led by Mitchell Pearce, that’s exactly what they did.
Who Was Hot… Pearce, who seemed to relish the chance to dominate in the absence of usual halves partner Braith Anasta. After a slightly shaky start, Pearce kicked with precision, frequently earning his side pressure-building repeat sets, in between some great defence on bigger men and a solo try. He was also just plain busy and exuded enthusiasm and determination. In other words, he provided everything Peter Wallace didn’t for NSW in SOO Game Two. There have been a lot of names mentioned for the Blues’ no.7 position, Pearce’s less often than several others. But he could just be the man for the long haul, starting with Game Three in a fortnight.
Who Was Not… Cronulla’s Origin forward Paul Gallen, who simply shouldn’t have been playing. The man’s tough, no argument, and even with his right arm hanging limply by his side Gallen managed 100-plus metres in attack and 20-plus tackles. But his impaired state caused by deep bruising to his shoulder cost his side the 45-minute try that levelled the scores, as he was unable to clean up a Pearce grubber.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… The Roosters’ third and last try – the long-range effort that put them in front for the first time, not to be headed – featured a flick pass from replacement Nick Kouparitsas that would have made Benji Marshall drool.
On a lighter note, there was the extraordinary sight of Mark ‘Ogre’ O’Meley watching from the sideline with something that looked very much like hair (red) growing from his skull. And a teenage girl closely associated with your reporter is of the view that the handsome face of Roosters’ rookie Sandor Earl also needs to be seen to be believed.
Bad Boys… None to report.
Refs Watch… Centremen Ashley Klein and Chris James went well.
NRL Best & Fairest…
3 points – Mitchell Pearce (Roosters): Played a tremendous halfback’s game, kicking astutely and cropping up everywhere, including to slot the match-sealing field goal; 2 points – Craig Fitzgibbon (Roosters): The captain played his heart out with 16 runs for 132 metres and 27 tackles; 1 point – Willie Mason (Roosters): Back to something like his barnstorming best with 14 runs for 105 metres.
Roosters 19 (M Pearce, S Perrett, S Kenny-Dowall tries; C Fitzgibbon 3 goals, M Pearce field-goal) def Sharks 12 (N Stapleton, B Ferguson tries; L Covell 2 goals) at Sydney Football Stadium. Crowd: 7,472.