Manly slugfest gave Roosters belief
There comes a point in every premiership season where the eventual champions evolve from a team who thinks they can win, to a team that believes that they will win.
Many might consider that the 2013 Sydney Roosters found their belief in Round 9 when, with inspirational front-rower Jared Waerea-Hargreaves sent from the field with 11 minutes still to play, the Roosters displayed courage in defence that had been mysteriously absent for the previous two seasons to win a gripping clash with the Sea Eagles 16-4.
Or was it the eight-game winning streak between rounds 15 and 23? How about the Round 26 blockbuster with almost 60,000 people packed into ANZ Stadium to witness the minor premiership decided by the two oldest and most bitter rivals in Australian rugby league?
Nope, if you ask Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce, it wasn't until they held Manly scoreless in one of the most gripping semi-final clashes the game has ever seen when the boys from Bondi truly believed that there was no team that could stop them.
"For us I think that was the game that gave us the confidence to win the comp," Pearce said of the 4-0 slugfest that had the entire rugby league world talking in revered tones in its aftermath. "Everyone thinks that it was 4-0 so there wasn't much footy played but it was end-to-end stuff all game and scramble 'd' from both teams.
"The last 10-15 minutes they pretty much had all the ball and we saved 10 or 15 tries just off one-on-one tackles so that gave us a lot of confidence and if we're going to kick-start our defence and get back to where we were it's a good chance for us next week."
Of course, there has been a further chapter written between that semi-final showdown and Friday night's rematch at Allianz Stadium with Sea Eagles halfback Daly Cherry-Evans named the Clive Churchill Medal winner despite the Roosters winning the Grand Final 26-18 having trailed by 10 points midway through the second half.
Pearce and Cherry-Evans shape as club and Origin rivals for the best part of the next decade and while the incumbent New South Wales No.7 was full of praise for the Manly half, he also made special mention of Sea Eagles five-eighth – and good friend – Kieran Foran.
"He's obviously a great player," Pearce said of Cherry-Evans. "He's a strong halfback, he's got a great running game and great instincts and he backs himself but I think as many raps as he gets Kieran Foran is the gel for their team.
"He's more of the organiser and really makes them play straight in attack so those two together, they're pretty special players. Big target for us."
Both the Roosters and Sea Eagles come into the Grand Final rematch on the back of Houdini-like escapes in Round 3 with Pearce laying on the match-winner against the Broncos and Manly got out of jail against the Eels when Steve Matai latched onto a bomb by Cherry-Evans.
They're the type of results that champion teams invariably come away with and Pearce said the late flurry against the Broncos was a further boost to their confidence.
"We showed great composure to stick to our structures in that last five minutes and back that we could score points and that adds to your belief system, that you're back here again, and that will help us during the year," Pearce said.
"Each year and each game you have to start again but experiences like that, when you get over the line and your structures work, I think it certainly gives you confidence that if you're in those situations again that you've got the game which leads to a bit more composure.
"To pull yourself out of those games is a skill in itself and a big confidence boost."