Friend play pulls Roosters from quicksand
As far as sports movies goes, The Replacements has its moments.
Keanu Reeves plays a washed-up quarterback given one last shot at NFL glory by coach Gene Hackman when the starting line of 1987 Washington Sentinels goes on strike.
Reeves' character, Shane Falco, gets the girl, but not the glory, and throws out one of the more apt sporting quotes in the process.
"You're playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can't move... you can't breathe... because you're in over your head. Like quicksand."
Having blitzed the Cowboys with 30 unanswered points in just 33 minutes on Friday night, the Roosters weren't just standing on solid ground, they were cart wheeling naked across it while belting out a show tune.
But then the earth beneath all those fluoro boots started to give just a wee bit.
The visitors clawed their way into the sheds down 30-12. One thing goes wrong.
It should've been closer but for Tautau Moga going himself with a man unmarked outside him as the siren sounded.
Six minutes after the break Johnathan Thurston strolled through the goal-line defence the Roosters have prided themselves on for the best part of two years now. Another thing gone wrong.
Then Thurston, the Steeden by now on a string and at his beck and call, punted downfield. Skipper Anthony Minichiello misjudged where he'd kicked from. And another.
Equalling Luke Ricketson's club record for most appearances, Minichiello produces arguably the worst play of his 301 games in the red, white and blue.
Trying to fight back, Mini hurls the ball infield to winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
But the harder you fight, the deeper you sink.
North Queensland's Robert Lui dives on the scraps, and minutes later Matt Scott bulldozes his way through from 15 metres out.
And all of a sudden there the Chooks are. Stuck in quicksand.
"It felt like for all the talk we were doing, we couldn't change the momentum at the time," prop Sam Moa recalls of those increasingly frequent pow wows beneath the Tri-colours' posts.
"It's easy to say that, and to try and do something to change it, but sometimes when a team's on a roll like that, just like how we were in the first half, it's so hard to stop that momentum.
"Everyone was just saying to stay calm. Obviously as the tries started to build up and they were getting closer, we started to get more intense.
"But the main message was to stay calm and keep thinking that we could swing it around."
And after 56 minutes in which 60 points had been scored, momentum did not so much swing as stagnate.
They'd blitzed, then been blitzed themselves, and so the Chooks reverted back to what they knew. What they do best. Defend.
Drag themselves out of the muck that had seen them concede 30 unanswered points in 22 minutes, what would have been the greatest ever comeback in rugby league history.
One desperate tackle at a time. And then another.
"We just had to keep aiming up in defence, and just get to the end of those sets," Moa says.
"That's where we saw the game changing a bit for us."
One strong set without ball in hand after earlier doing so much with it. And another.
In the 67th minute, hooker Jake Friend, back after three weeks on the sidelines with a chest injury that leaked fluid into his lungs like a sieve, kicks into the Cowboys right- hand corner on the third tackle.
Moa flies in and belts the unfortunate soul trucking the ball up off the North Queensland line. Sonny Bill follows suit on the very next play. And then another.
"That was a turning point for us," Moa says.
"It gave us the confidence to stay in the game, and got us back to our style, what we do best. It also meant the game kept rolling, which suits us, because we do believe that we're a side that play our best footy when there's not many stoppages in the game."
A James Maloney field goal pushes them in front and a controversial call that denies Thurston the match winner in the final minute keeps them there.
"All the momentum was with them, and we just needed to stay in the game and grind out a tough win."
And so it was. Through the grit and the grind that delivered them one premiership, the Roosters somehow remain on track to claim another.
Out of the muck and the mire.
Out of the quicksand.