Pearce's star turn stuns Storm
The tell-tale ingredients of the Roosters 2013 premiership form were again present in a gritty 24-12 win over Melbourne on Saturday night, with halfback Mitchell Pearce in stellar touch and their goal-line defence again formidable.
Pearce proved the difference as the Roosters overcame a 12-8 deficit midway through the second half with three tries in 15 minutes, the dumped Origin half playing a hand in all three as the premiers overwhelmed a Storm side that had spent the majority of the first hour hammering away at the Tricolours defence.
Coach Trent Robinson admitted Pearce's second half was his most composed of what has been a trying season for the 25-year-old, and said he was most pleased by his rise to match opposite number Cooper Cronk, who kept the ball on a string and the Roosters under the pump throughout the first 40 minutes.
"I thought Cooper Cronk owned that first half but 'Pearcey' owned the second half and that is what we needed, to match Cronk in his decision making," Robinson said.
"That comes down to halves and Pearcey stood up there. He had some good variety and really good control over our team, and some really nice kicks, obviously a try and just really good control over our sets."
The win secures a top four berth for the Chooks and sets up a blockbuster clash with South Sydney next Thursday, with a shot at becoming the first side to win back-to-back minor premierships since St George Illawarra in 2009/2010 on the line.
Robinson conceded there was plenty of improvement to be found in the premiers' 15 errors, two of which came directly from kick-offs and gifted Melbourne prime field position immediately after the Roosters had scored points.
But aside from two tries back through the middle of the ruck from Storm fullback Billy Slater, the man with the red, white and blue clipboard was understandably chuffed with a defensive effort that repelled a Storm outfit that spent 42 minutes of the first hour in their territory.
"We had to be on and our defence was OK in yardage, but very good on our goal-line," Robinson said.
"It was very good except for two [tries] going through the ruck, that was disappointing from us. I think we've been building with our goal line 'D'. It's been really good for probably a month now.
"The guys are physical on their plays. They really take pride in their tackling and their pressure that they apply on those edges. They got us with a couple of tricks there, which we knew were coming but we should have done better on those. "
Skipper Anthony Minichello agreed.
"With all those plays that Melbourne throw at you, they've got a lot of trick shots, a lot of kicks, plays that Slater does out the back," Minichiello said.
"I thought the boys were really on in that goal-line area there."
The Roosters will now head into their clash with traditional rivals South Sydney currently sitting in equal second place on 34 competition points, just two for-and-against points behind the Rabbitohs, though Manly do have a game in hand and can move into pole position with a win over Penrith on Sunday afternoon.