Waerea-Hargreaves owns the big moments
In one of the best games of the season, one of the biggest players in one of the best teams stepped up to own the big moments.
In a match where the Roosters conceded a 22-0 lead against the Bulldogs to go behind 28-22 before storming home with three late tries to a 38-28 win, the difference – and the impetus for the late turnaround – was the reintroduction of Roosters big man Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
The prop played massive minutes with a big opening 29-minute spell to start the game, then was brought back with half an hour to go, clocking almost 60 minutes for the match – a huge game for a prop.
And his numbers were even more impressive: his 238 metres from 19 runs and four tackle busts were all match-highs among forwards from either team, with only prolific fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (303 metres) running further in the game.
But it was his explosive run from a line drop out that burst through the Bulldogs line in the 68th minute with his side trailing and in desperate need of points that was arguably the turning point of the match, scattering the Dogs line and setting the stage for centre Blake Ferguson to crash over.
He followed it up with another big run in the set after points to help lay the platform for Michael Jennings' try to steal back the lead.
After the game his coach heaped praise on the 26-year-old.
"I thought Jared was amazing," Roosters coach Trent Robinson said.
"What he did there tonight, to decide that the game was going to go in a certain way, and I thought Boyd [Cordner] was also one of those [who produced big plays]."
"So when those two came back on and they just said 'look I'm not sure what's going to happen but I'm going to play this way and I'm going to try and make a difference', and they did that and it was big."
Waerea-Hargreaves had clearly made the decision that he was going to have an impact on the game.
"He decided he was going to make a difference tonight and you're not always sure of the result but he probably sparked somebody else to have a big play... every one of those runs, they were off play one, they were huge carries and we just got some momentum off the back of it.
"They weren't a broken defensive line, it wasn't off a quick play the ball. They were off set starts where he decided off a kick off, off a drop out, that he was going to run a certain way. It's a real credit to him especially as probably the number one guy that changed momentum."
Speaking to journalists after the game, impending father Waerea-Hargreaves – whose partner Chelsea Cormack is due to give birth to the couple's first child in two weeks – was beaming as he carried out a shopping bag covered with pink elephants and full of baby gifts.
Waerea-Hargreaves was typically understated of his own match-winning efforts, preferring to credit teammates for their efforts, while also refusing to buy into his own entertaining running battle with Bulldogs skipper James Graham, which appeared to fire up the Roosters firebrand late in the game.
"To be honest I wasn't really paying attention, I sort of heard him talking but I see him do it all the time and I looked around and I was like 'he's actually talking to me!'" Waerea-Hargreaves said of a spray Graham gave him after the Bulldogs hit the front in the second half.
"I get along really well with him and I have a lot of respect for James and I sort of said 'go away because I'm a bit tired'."
He said the side felt like they were behind at half time, rather than six points in front, after having had a 22-point lead cut to 22-16 at the break.
"We went in at half time, it was quite strange, half time we went in and we all thought we were behind. Everyone had this look on their face like 'they're in front' but we were actually ahead," he said.
"'Robbo' obviously went around individually and spoke about what we had to do as a player then he addressed everyone. For myself it was just going back to basics, going back to laying the platform for our boys, I knew we lost Sammy Moa [to a dislocated wrist] there in the back end of the first half.
"I knew that I had to step up and I spoke to the rest of our middles, it was about going home. We've done the hard work, it's going back and making them feeling uncomfortable."
Of his big efforts during the Roosters push for victory late in the game, Waerea-Hargreaves said he was looking for a momentum-changer.
"Something that we as front rowers and the whole competition need or do [is look for] a momentum changer and you try and gee your other players up. You try and look to go for a momentum change or something like that. I think it was just choosing my time."
With the Roosters defending a slim lead late in the game, Waerea-Hargreaves also produced a huge hit early in a set against Bulldogs bench prop Tim Browne as the Dogs commenced a seven-tackle set from their own end.
"I just wanted to make a good tackle because I knew that we had seven tackles to make, I saw the style of carry it was, went out after it and found myself pretty lucky and got a loose ball there so it was good.
"You have to get out of your comfort zone, lift yourself to another level and don't be happy with what you are doing."
The tough nature of the win could help push the title hopefuls to a new level late in the season, he said.
"We fought hard tonight and to let it go and then come back showed true character. We will grow confidence from that, it shook us up a bit. They ruffled out feathers a bit but I thought it was good for us."