Of all the spectacular moments, it is impossible to go past Maika Sivo running into, and then over, James Tedesco. Not only did Sivo hand his side the lead, he took out the world’s best player. Tedesco lay motionless on the ground for several minutes, raising alarm across Bondi Junction.
Thankfully, the star fullback waved away the medicab and made his own way from the field. In an indication of just how good this tricolours team is, they turned things around without him.
Everything was in the favour of the blue and golds. Their ‘away’ game was staged at fortress Bankwest against an opponent coming off a five-day turnaround. Yet with Tedesco looking on from the stands, Luke Keary and Daniel Tupou scored late tries, the latter doing so despite picking up an early injury.
The Roosters left with the Jack Gibson Cup, although the 24-10 scoreline didn’t indicate the closeness of the contest. After opening the season with five straight victories, the hype in the golden west was palpable. Comment was sought from the class of 1986, including 75-year-old coach John Monie. Long-suffering fans were beginning to believe that this, finally, was their time. If they continue to submit performances of this quality and find another gear come finals time, it may yet be so.
“The effort was good and it was probably a good game of football to watch, but they were too professional in the end,” Arthur said. “It got to 10-8 and I think we only had the ball for four or five sets after that period to their 13 or something.”
Both sides were up for this. Nathan Brown was so keen to make an immediate impression on proceedings that he was penalised for being offside. After 25 seconds. Not only is he one of the game’s most aggressive forwards but also the best. Brown was everywhere, bumping and bouncing opponents whether they had the ball or not.
He got one wrong when he clocked fellow powerhouse lock Victor Radley high, an offence that forced the victim off the field and may do the same to the perpetrator.
The attack of both sides was fast and slick, but was more than matched by the defence. For all of the Roosters’ early advantages in field position and possession – they had 57 per cent of the Steeden in the opening stanza – they crossed the try line just once.
Even then, it took something out of the ordinary to crack the Parramatta line. In further proof that everything Tedesco touches turns to gold, the reigning Dally M medallist threw a long pass that missed its mark and hit the turf. It bounced forward and straight into the arms of Brett Morris, who beat the cover defence to score in the right-hand corner.
That the only other points of the half came from Kyle Flanagan’s boot is testament to how well the teams defend their goal lines.
Whatever Arthur said to his troops at half-time did the trick. Having absorbed the Roosters’ best punches in the opening half, they started to land their own upon the resumption. From the kick-off, they held the ball for six straight sets to roar back into the contest.
It had a bit of everything. Referee Ben Cummins took a tumble. Josh Morris was involved in a ‘Falcon for the ages’. When Blake Ferguson kicked the ball into the head of one of the cardboard cutouts in the stands, he apologised.
But most of all this was football of the highest quality. In a contest with so much young talent, some of the older heads stood out. At times, the Morris boys appeared to be everywhere. Brett scored the opening try and saved countless others. Michael Jennings also wound back the clock. When he crossed early in the second half, it was all Parramatta. However, his late sin-binning was one obstacle too many for his side to overcome.
“I really am enjoying watching them play,” Robinson said of his side. “I wake up this morning as a coach going ‘I can’t wait to watch tonight’, but also as a fan. I like to see how people react, that’s what the season is about.”
The Eels learnt a painful lesson about closing out a game against a spirited opponent. Against Canberra next week, they will show how much they have learnt.
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.