Roosters v Eels: Five key points
The Roosters left it very late against a willing Eels side they were expected to thump by a wide margin, claiming the lead for the first time in the 70th minute before going on to record their ninth straight victory. Here are five key points from the 28-18 win.
Roosters still searching for complete performance
After twice suffering fade-outs in successive matches against Canterbury and Newcastle after racking up big leads, this week the Roosters had their fade out at the start before coming home strong.
Their coach Trent Robinson said both execution in attack and lapses in defence had cost them in the first half, while paying credit to a spirited effort from their opponents in going out to an 18-4 half-time lead.
"It was a good tussle early on, very good intensity from Parra, I thought they carried the ball really well, there was a lot of back-to-back sets, very fast to begin with," he said.
"I thought we were defending quite well, [absorbed] quite a bit of pressure then huge defensive errors for those plays which they executed really well. As soon as we opened the door on one play they executed. The back end of the first half we started to get some pressure back through our defence and get some errors out of them but we just weren't getting a rhythm in attack."
He admitted things got "a bit uncomfortable" early on.
"I thought our defence improved dramatically in the last 10 minutes [of the first half], it got much better, we started getting a bit more rhythm there and it was going to take some time to score some points with the way our combinations were," he said.
"We missed some opportunities, it wasn't pretty, our combinations tonight. That was probably the main thing that was lacking. The will was there, we just didn't find enough combinations, enough support at times."
Semi wins the wing battle
The Eels may not have won the game but blockbusting winger Semi Radradra earned a points victory over opposite number(s) in Blake Ferguson and Mitch Aubusson.
He scored his 19th try of the season, putting him two clear on the leaderboard, and while the plaudits have been on his attacking brilliance he gave Ferguson plenty of headaches with good defensive reads.
Late in the first half he came sprinting in to shut down an overlap, crunching Ferguson as he received a pass to jolt the ball free and earn a turnover for his side; Radradra helped shut down a potential Ferguson try in the 59th minute, then bundled his opposite number into touch in the 66th minute – although such is Ferguson's brilliance a late flick infield was able to retain possession for his side on that occasion.
Roosters experiment on flank
Perhaps one factor in Radradra's favour in that battle on the flanks was the fact Robinson was experimenting with Mitch Aubusson – traditionally a back-rower or centre – interchanging on the wing with Ferguson.
It was an experiment that yielded mixed results, and Robinson wouldn't commit to whether he would persist with it.
Aubusson scored one try, albeit a straightforward one after receiving the ball wide open following a bat-back from a bomb. One attacking raid broke down when he was late to a James Maloney cut-out pass that sailed into touch, while the normally safe defender took some time adjusting to the new position when the Eels had the ball.
It also seemed to interrupt Ferguson's proficiency in attack. As the game wore on the two were interchanged, with Aubusson defending two in and Ferguson on the wing, but Robinson said that was a pre-planned move rather than a response to what was happening on the field.
"Yeah that was a plan going into the game, just a different combination that we tried tonight. It went fairly well. Bit new there. We can't say it was one way or the other after tonight. We'll have a think about it for next week," he said.
Eels injuries keep piling up
Eels coach Brad Arthur lamented the fact that "we've got half our salary cap sitting on the sidelines" after yet another injury-hit loss, which saw skipper Tim Mannah withdrawn after 25 minutes, before three other players picked up minor injury concerns in David Gower and Peni Terepo (concussion) and Junior Paulo (knee and nose injuries).
Terepo went off for a concussion check in the first half before returning, while an extremely groggy Gower was assisted from the field late in the game. Paulo looked troubled by a knee strain late in the first half but played on before copping a knock to the face later.
Arthur said Mannah's knee strain would have to be looked at during the week.
"It's his knee, and I'm not quite sure [how bad it is]. We haven't had a good trot with injuries. We'll just have to wait and see next week," Arthur said.
"[Gower] got a head knock, Peni Terepo got a head knock, Junior, his nose is halfway across his face. It was a physical contest. I asked our boys to come here and aim up physically and I've got to give them 100 per cent for that."
Robinson brushes ladder talk
Trent Robinson doesn't want a bar of any talk about his side's chances of finishing 2015 with either the minor premiership or a home qualifying final after entering the top two for the first time since an early season run of four straight losses.
The minor premiership provides a financial bonus for a club as well as the associated prestige of being the best team of the regular season, while a top-two finish means not only a guaranteed entry to the second week of the finals but a home game to kick things off.
"We won [a minor premiership] one year and it helped, we won one last year and it didn't," Robinson said, in reference to consecutive first-place ladder finishes in the past two years, one of which led to a Grand Final win.
"It doesn't matter in the end, you've got to be in good form and humming at the right time. We've got some improvement to be made. There's some guys fighting hard there and a little bit off but we'll regroup and get ready for the Broncos [next week]."
Robinson also wasn't interested in discussing the merits of a home game in week one of the finals series, which would avert a likely away trip to Queensland to face either Brisbane or North Queensland.
"It doesn't matter about going to Queensland or playing at home. If you're ready to play you're ready to play. It'd be nice to play at home but it doesn't matter where you play," he said.