Roosters book Broncos showdown
The Roosters have shrugged off an indifferent qualifying final loss to Melbourne with a powerful 38-12 win over Canterbury to earn a preliminary final berth against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium next week.
The win wasn't without controversy as bench prop Kane Evans was awarded a try despite grounding the ball short at a crucial juncture with his side up just 8-4 early in the second half in a decision that seemed to break Canterbury's spirits and open the floodgates for a late Roosters surge.
The Roosters' final 17 confirmed the decision halfback Mitch Pearce had failed to overcome a hamstring injury but it mattered little as his replacement Jackson Hastings had the ball on a string in a sublime 80-minute performance, kicking and passing beautifully to earn repeat sets while setting up two of his side's tries.
Winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall was the most dominant outside back on the field, bagging a hat-trick of tries and crossing the 150-metre mark. Both back-rowers, Boyd Cordner and Aidan Guerra, set the tone in a forward pack that bounced back well from last week's loss.
The Dogs had started the first half powerfully, dominating the Tricolours with their defence and easily winning the mid-field arm-wrestle in the opening minutes.
But they made a habit of letting the Roosters off the hook; a 4th-minute pass from Moses Mbye that went behind Curtis Rona into touch was a major pressure-release and when the Roosters eventually earned their first foray into Dogs' territory a penalty against Frank Pritchard for a leg pull handed James Maloney an easy two points in the ninth minute.
It was a win for the Roosters to earn the first points after absorbing a huge amount of punishment to start the game, and they quickly made it 8-0 when a pinpoint Hastings bomb was batted back into the hands of Kenny-Dowall who streaked away to the right hand corner.
The Dogs continued to make errors in Roosters territory – including in the very next set when Tim Lafai drilled a kick-off into touch to earn an attacking set before he himself dropped it cold shortly after.
The centre made amends just inside the half hour mark, cutting back on the angle onto a Reynolds pass one play after a Sam Kasiano offload to Brett Morris had set the Roosters on the back foot. However Lafai then missed a straightforward conversion to leave the Roosters 8-4 ahead.
A scrappy half of football got worse with errors in three consecutive sets close to half-time, the Roosters eventually out-fumbling the Dogs in a 9-7 first half error count.
The second stanza started in the same vein when Kasiano lost it in the play the ball in the first set after half-time, Sio Siua Taukeiaho spilled it form the next play, then Mbye played the ball backwards after flipping in a tackle.
When Rona dropped a bomb in the 48th minute the Roosters had the best chance of the half but the Dogs were let off the hook through – perhaps unsurprisingly – a Blake Ferguson error. But Rona's fourth error of the game set the Roosters back on the attack.
The pressure finally told in highly controversial fashion.
Evans pushed his way up to the line but was held short. He was finally put to ground and as he landed stuck out the ball carrying arm. The ball was grounded short of the line before he pushed it over onto the chalk; the possible try was strangely sent up as a try and even more strangely upheld by the video referee despite clear evidence the ball was grounded short when Evans was arguably held even before that.
It was a bitter blow for the Dogs but there was no doubt about the Roosters' try in the very next set and again Evans was involved, popping a beautiful late offload to send Tuivasa-Sheck streaking into space, getting around Brett Morris to score and all of a sudden an 8-4 arm-wrestle was 20-4 to the Roosters.
Hull FC-bound back-rower Frank Pritchard arrested the Dogs' slide, showing great hands to reel in a Mbye pass then gallop into space, finding Josh Morris in support to set up yet another NRL try to hooker Damien Cook to make it 20-8.
The Roosters snuffed out any hopes of a comeback shortly after when Kenny-Dowall bagged his second, showing great strength and poise to ground the ball under pressure in the corner to finish off a right-side shift.
It started getting ugly for the Dogs when Cordner burst between Cook and Pritchard next to the posts in the 72nd minute then Kenny-Dowall earned his hat-trick latching onto a Hastings bomb shortly after.
Rona got a consolation try right on the full-time siren to level Nigel Vagana's club-record of 23 tries in a season, but it mattered little as his side bowed out with a 38-12 loss.
Sydney Roosters 38 (Kenny-Dowall 3, Evans, Tuivasa-Sheck, Cordner tries; Maloney 7 goals) defeated Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 12 (Lafai, Cook, Rona tries) at Allianz Stadium. Half-time: Roosters 8-4. Crowd: 35,711.