Joey Manu demonstrated why he is regarded as the best centre in the game as the injury-hit Sydney Roosters did just enough to hold out a plucky Gold Coast Titans outfit 18-12 at the SCG.
The New Zealand international, who received 44 per cent of votes in the NRL players poll as the game’s No.1 centre, scored a try and saved another in the tight encounter, which was decided by the boot of Kyle Flanagan.
Both teams scored two tries but Flanagan kicked five goals to ensure the back-to-back premiers remained in fourth place ahead of Cronulla on for-and-against.
Already without nine members of last year’s grand final winning team, the Roosters were forced to shift second-rower Sitili Tupouniua into the centres after Josh Morris was ruled out before kick-off with a calf injury and it was no coincidence that the Titans targeted their left edge.
Gold Coast appeared to have struck first blood when halfback Jamal Fogarty crossed in just the third minute but the Bunker ruled that centre Brian Kelly had passed off the ground and disallowed the try.
A sixth-minute Flanagan penalty goal gave the premiers a 2-0 lead but the Titans were rewarded for their expansive play when Anthony Don started and finished a 70-metre try after sending Dale Copley racing down the touchline in front of the Brewongle Stand side of the SCG.
Match: Roosters v Titans
Round 12 -
Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
Copley kicked ahead and Gold Coast fullback AJ Brimson looked like he would get to the ball first but was held back by opposite James Tedesco and Don touched down, saving the Roosters superstar a stint in the sin-bin as the Titans scored anyway.
Kelly was not so fortunate when he committed a professional foul at the opposite end of the field in the 16th minute after tackling Manu off the ball near the Gold Coast line and the visitors were reduced to 12 men.
The four-pointer went unconverted and scores were level when Flanagan slotted his second penalty, with Gold Coast centre Brian Kelly sin-binned for a professional foul, and the premiers went in front when Tedesco sent Mitchell Aubusson over in the right corner.
Flanagan kicked a penalty goal to level the scores at 4-4 and Tedesco put Mitch Aubusson over in the 22th minute with an overhead pass as the Roosters took advantage of the extra player.
However, the Titans appeared set to draw the scores level again as Kelly returned to the action in the 26th minute only for Manu to sprint from the eastern side of the field to make a try saving tackle on Phillip Sami in the western corner.
Gold Coast had another opportunity a minute later but Brimson bounced the ball as he dived on a perfectly weighted Fogarty grubber into the Roosters in-goal.
Manu to the rescue again for the Roosters
An Ash Taylor penalty goal after the half-time siren had sounded enabled the Titans to go to the interval trailing just 10-6 but despite a gutsy effort they would get no closer in the second term.
It was a sign of respect for Gold Coast’s gritty defence that Flanagan opted to attempt to land another penalty goal in the 47th minute after Titans second-rower Keegan Hipgrave was sin-binned for tackling Lindsay Collins off the ball as he chased a Keary grubber.
Flanagan missed but he didn’t fail with another attempt three minutes later.
When Manu scored after leaping high for a Keary kick and pushing off defenders before forcing his way over the line in the 62nd minute, the chances of an upset appeared gone.
However, Sami kept the Titans hopes alive when he finished off a back-line move to score in the 75th minute and Taylor converted from the sideline to reduce the Roosters lead to 18-12.