After watching Sam Walker kick a match-winning field and make a last-gasp try-saving tackle in a nine-minute finals cameo at QCB Stadium on Saturday night, Roosters coach Trent Robinson admitted the teen star was unlikely to have played unless their season was on the line.
Walker replaced halfback Lachlan Lam after Gold Coast prop Jarrod Wallace crossed to level the scores at 24-24 and landed a 78th minute field goal to end the Titans' season and set up a clash with Manly in Mackay next weekend.
The 19-year-old then scrambled to make a try-saving tackle on Phillip Sami with just seconds remaining as the fatigued and injury hit Roosters outfit hung on to win 25-24 after the Titans bombed a chance to snatch victory on full-time.
With Roosters prop Siosiua Taukeiaho lasting just two minutes before succumbing to a knee injury and lock Victor Radley battling a painful shoulder problem, Robinson had to carefully manage his forward rotation.
Match: Roosters v Titans
Finals Week 1 -
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
However, with the game in the balance he sent Walker on in the 71st minute and the rookie halfback nailed his assignment with a controversial field goal after Roosters players appeared to set up a wall to protect him from the Gold Coast defenders.
“It was a pretty ice-cold finish by him, but also the tackle save," Robinson said.
“Sammy has done well in finishing games for us but we were constantly in front there and I wanted to give Lachy and Drew [Hutchison] the opportunity to finish that game. But it was a pretty easy choice when it got to 24-24 to put Sammy on."
Walker steps up when his side needs him
Walker had his first field goal attempt charged down but he made no mistake with his second shot and then stopped Sami just metres from the Roosters try-line after a break by Gold Coast second-rower Beau Fermor.
The Titans had another chance to snatch victory after swinging the ball across the field but centre Patrick Herbert ran himself rather than offloading to David Fifita. An attempted flick pass by Herbert to winger Corey Thompson as he ran into the Roosters defence rolled into touch.
“We have been imperfect this year and we are still searching for that game that we want but we have also learned to manage games to win them as well," Robinson said.
Radley injured his shoulder in the first half after coming off second best in an attempted big shot on Gold Coast forward Sam Lisone, while hooker Sam Verrills was placed on report for a high shot that left Brian Kelly with a broken nose.
“It was pretty big contact there," Robinson said of Radley. "That was disappointing and we had Siua, who went on for about five minutes and came off. We had a two-man [bench] rotation going there for a bit.
"Rads played 80 minutes and he played valiantly. He is a game changer and in saying that he will go after moments, he will go after a defensive player, he will go after an attacking play.
"Even when I didn’t want him to overplay he is still searching. He has got courage in defence, but he has also got courage with the ball and that is why he is happy to play and continue to play."
Roosters captain James Tedesco scored a try and had a hand in each of his side's three others in an inspirational performance.
Sam Walker makes a season-saving tackle!
However, the Titans overcame the 10th minute sin-binning of Tyrone Peachey for a professional foul and the loss of Kelly before halftime to trail just 12-6 at the interval.
The Roosters regained control quickly after the half-time break when winger Daniel Tupou – playing in his 200th match for the club – latched on to a tip-on from Tedesco and crossed in the 42nd minute following lead-up work from Drew Hutchison and Radley.
Radley bursts through to provide for Tedesco
Trailing 18-6, the Titans needed to score next and they did, when star lock Tino Fa'asuamaleaui picked up a loose ball from a Jamaal Fogarty bomb and strolled across to score in the 47th minute.
Kelly, who had returned to the match in the second half, then drew the scores level at 18-18 after stepping between Roosters forwards Angus Crichton and Isaac Liu off an inside pass from Peachey.
Veteran centre Josh Morris put the Roosters back in front in the 60th minute but winger Matt Ikuvalu gifted a try to Wallace 10 minutes later when he lost the ball near his own line, prompting Robinson to go to his bench.
Walker came on in the 71st minute and after missing an earlier attempt he landed his third field goal of the season to snatch the 25-24 win.