NRL Round 7: Anzac Day Roosters v Dragons Preview
The ANZAC Day Cup between the Sydney Roosters and St George Illawarra Dragons has become an engrained part of NRL’s fabric – a clash between two powerful clubs based on mateship, respect and honour.
The Roosters sealed their fifth straight win in a golden point thriller over the previously-unbeaten Melbourne Storm 21-20. The game had it all. Just like in the 2018 Grand Final, the Chooks blitzed Melbourne early on. Their left-edge attack, in particular, was electric. They raced to a 20-0 lead before the famous AAMI Park seagulls had time to settle and were making an almighty Premiership statement to the rest of the competition. But just like in their matches against Souths, Manly and Cronulla, the Roosters showed they’re vulnerable to second-half fightbacks.
Cameron Smith seized control of the game’s speed and suddenly with possession swinging the Storm’s way, the Roosters couldn’t stop Melbourne’s resurgence. Conceding 20 points in 16 minutes meant the Roosters’ lead was gone and the game then evolved into a battle for territory instead of a points shootout. Melbourne won this battle but crucially couldn’t capitalise it into a lead. The Roosters looked spent from the comeback but a Sitili Tupouniua charge from the golden point’s opening set turned the game on its head one last time before Latrell Mitchell iced the match with an amazing 40-metre field goal.
It wasn’t a complete Roosters performance but it was one of their gutsiest. The Premiers were already missing Jake Friend, Sia Siua Taukeiaho, Isaac Liu, Joseph Manu and Brett Morris pre-game before Luke Keary got concussed with 20 minutes remaining, but they still found a way to defeat a club quickly becoming a heated rival. There’ll be no mind games on Keary’s involvement this week – concussion has ruled him out. Mitchell will replace him in the number six jersey and with the Roosters already having experience in halves reshuffles with Cooper Cronk’s absence in rounds 2 and 3, it’s not new ground for the tricolours.
The Dragons meanwhile relied on a comeback of their own in their nailbiting 14-12 win over Manly. It wasn’t a pretty performance for St George-Illawarra but it was their fourth consecutive win and to do so they had luck on their side. Tim Lafai had a night to forget with his goalkicking boot – missing three relative sitters – but Ben Hunt’s own ugly kick inside two minutes remaining somehow squeezed its way through teammates and opponents to find a wide-open Mikaele Ravalawa to score the go-ahead try.
The drama wasn’t done yet though as Manly’s last-second crossfield bomb was defused by the Dragons via the help of a seemingly illegal escort on Manly centre Reuben Garrick. The play was called illegal – but unfortunately for Manly, this call was made the day after in a review and not on the field. The Dragons may feel it was karma for Manly’s Brad Parker who tripped a Dragon with five minutes left yet avoided a sin bin, but it also shows for a once injury-depleted side who previously were on the ropes at 0-2 with Brisbane ready to make it 0-3, luck may now be on the Dragons side. Coach Paul McGregor has received a contract extension and knows what it takes to beat the Roosters on ANZAC Day (he has a 3-1 record). He’ll need all of this knowledge if the Dragons aim to take their own winning streak to five games against the hot favourites.
Key stats: overall the Roosters have won 9 of the last 12 head-to-head matches against the Dragons. James Tedesco has two Roosters tries in his two games against the Dragons, plus has scored in each of his last four games. The Roosters have led at half-time in each of their last five matches – all wins.