Roosters edge Broncos in finals epic
he Roosters have held onto a thrilling 24-22 win after Brisbane fought back from 14-0 down to almost steal a win in a memorable qualifying final at Allianz Stadium.
A late Corey Oates try – after Blake Ferguson had pushed a 40/20 attempt back in-field with no teammates on hand to regather – had remarkably put Brisbane ahead 22-18 after they had been rocked by a potent early assault from the Tricolours, who should have led by more than 14 after a dominant opening half-hour.
Benji Marshall was immense for the visitors, clawing back the momentum after the early assault with some wonderful kicks and launching the 40/20 attempt that brought Ferguson undone in a remarkably similar play to the one that saw Marshall himself score to seal the 2008 World Cup win when Billy Slater produced a similar error.
The Roosters ran riot early and made 23 tackle busts and six line breaks in the first half. Isaac Liu was a terror through the middle while Ferguson and Latrell Mitchell each continued their strong form in the backs with some powerful runs.
A late switch from Broncos coach Wayne Bennett to shift Kodi Nikorima to the bench and start David Mead at fullback did not pay early dividends; while Mead was solid under the high ball the defence was a rabble in the absence of the injured Darius Boyd as the Roosters rocked the Broncos through the middle.
It could have been worse for the visitors; only an Adam Blair try-saver around the ankles denied Isaac Liu a try after he stepped through the line and if Luke Keary had looked left rather than right in open space he would have found an unmarked Ryan Matterson.
Despite bombing a couple of tries the Roosters still had little trouble scoring early; Aidan Guerra raced onto a lovely Jake Friend cut-out at the line for the game's first try and his fellow back-rower Boyd Cordner profited from a nice Mitch Pearce offload to step around Adam Blair and score.
Brisbane centre Tautau Moga produced a few costly errors, including an illegal shot on Pearce as he kicked a long ball downtown that resulted in a Roosters penalty at the Brisbane end and a free two points to make it 14-0.
Marshall kicked well throughout and helped wrest momentum back, setting up the crucial try to James Roberts with a deft grubber that clawed back some of the deficit shortly before half-time.
Simple errors from Marshall, Herman Ese'ese and Matt Gillett put Brisbane under pressure early in the second half. The Roosters extended their lead when Keary cut through a yawning gap between Milford and Moga, but Nikorima clawed one back when he put Corey Oates over in the corner.
Keary cut another hole, this time on the Broncos' right edge, but a Roberts try-saver denied Mitchell a critical four-pointer.
At 18-10 with half an hour to play Brisbane still needed something special to get back in it and after a somewhat error-strewn and scoreless 20 minutes they stunned the Roosters with two tries in as many minutes either side of the 70-minute mark.
First there was some solo brilliance as Ben Hunt kicked for himself out of dummy half and won the race to the ball. Then in Brisbane's set after points, Marshall fired a 40/20 attempt that was on the money and Ferguson's attempt to defuse it was successful but in a disastrous twist for his team only Broncos winger Corey Oates was in the vicinity of the ball and he planted an easy try to take Brisbane ahead for the first time.
The lead didn't last long, however; in the 75th minute Mitchell banished the nightmares of Round 6 when he was hooked after being given a bath by Roberts by throwing Roberts away in a rampaging run to the Broncos' line to send the home crowd into raptures as Gordon's conversion made it 26-24 in favour of the Tricolours.
One late twist almost emerged seconds before the final siren as Brisbane camped at the Roosters end and Keary fumbled a kick that Roberts toed ahead but the ball just beat him dead, leaving Brisbane a sudden-death semi-final against the winner of Manly v Penrith while the Roosters get a week off to see what happens in the Melbourne v Parramatta and Sharks v Cowboys finals.
Sydney Roosters 24 (Guerra, Cordner, Keary, Mitchell tries; Gordon 4 goals) def. Brisbane Broncos 22 (Oates 2, Roberts, Hunt tries; Kahu 3 goals) at Allianz Stadium. Half time: Roosters 14-6. Crowd: 21,212.