The Roosters, meanwhile, are well and truly in the top-four fight after a point-scoring blitz against St George Illawarra took them back into fourth, two points clear of high-flying Manly.
And on the eve of a make-or-break game against South Sydney, which will decide whether the Roosters will have a double chance in the finals, Trent Robinson is not even close to throwing in the towel on his team’s title hopes – even if he was quick to seize the underdog tag against their bitter rivals.
Whatever the miracles or equations are now [to make the finals], I’m not too concerned about them
“I feel like [it’s] a pair of heavyweight fighters in our competition,” Robinson said. “We feel like we started off as lightweights, featherweights and we’re putting on weight each week. If you keep putting on weight we might get up to their division soon.
“Let’s see where we get [to] on Friday night and let’s see where we get in the next couple of weeks.”
There are many ways to handle adversity; case in point the Roosters, and their vanquished opponents the Dragons, whose finals hopes were buried under an avalanche of second-half tries.
Every week, Robinson’s men have plugged another hole with a broken body and more often than not kept winning.
Having trailed by 14 points in scorching conditions thanks to a James Tedesco masterclass, the Dragons fought back to lead 16-14 midway through the second half – only then to concede quickly and regularly.
“To come back from 14-0 down to lead 16-14 I thought was an enormous effort,” Griffin said. “We had our destiny, so to speak, in our own hands, and we needed to finish that game off. [But] I don’t think they deserved that scoreline, our guys. I thought they did a great job to get themselves back into the contest, but [the Roosters] were too good.”
Just for a change, the Roosters lost more players to injuries.
Of most concern will be Nat Butcher (knee), while Adam Keighran lasted only 11 minutes before being ruled out with concussion. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves’ body spectacularly contorted while attempting a tackle on Matt Dufty, but somehow he soldiered on after initial screams of agony.
“Since he’s lived at Mosman, he’s done a lot of yoga and pilates so he’s in good enough shape to bend like a pretzel,” Robinson joked. “He recovered well from that. Most guys wouldn’t.”
Most teams wouldn’t recover either from the Dragons’ second-half revival, which saw Mikaele Ravalawa and fellow winger Mat Feagai score tries from Zac Lomax assists.
Feagai’s in particular was a spectacular length-of-the-field effort which started with Jack Bird fielding a Sam Walker bomb in his own in-goal and launching a counter-attack off the tap restart which ended with the go-ahead try.
But the joy was short, and the lead very short-lived.
Daniel Tupou finished with a hat-trick inside 24 minutes and halves Walker, relegated to the bench for the start of the game, and Drew Hutchison scored solo efforts against a sagging defensive line.
“I feel like they’re really calm, no matter the score,” Robinson said of his players’ composure as the game threatened to get away from them. “No matter the situation, they’ve been good at saying, ‘OK, what do I need to do better?’ The leaders spread that energy around, so if they’re calm the others are calm.”
SYDNEY ROOSTERS 40 (Daniel Tupou 3, Egan Butcher, Dale Copley, Sitili Tupouniua, Sam Walker, Drew Hutchison tries; Siosuia Taukeiaho 3 goals) defeated ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 22 (Josh McGuire, Mikaele Ravalawa, Mat Feagai, Jayden Sullivan tries; Zac Lomax 3 goals) at Clive Berghofer Stadium. Referee: Chris Sutton. Crowd: 7822.