The Sydney Roosters are the NRL premiers for the second year in a row, defeating the Canberra Raiders in a controversial grand final at a packed ANZ Stadium. Here are my talking points from the biggest game of the season
The referees butchered it, but didn’t directly change the result
We are going to keep it to one point talking about the referees, but given the impact they had on the late stages of the game, they have to be talked about.
Everyone knows exactly how it went down by now, unless of course, you’ve been living under a rock since halftime last night.
A call of six to go was initially signalled, followed by a reversal back to the last tackle for Canberra. Jack Wighton then died with the ball thinking he’d be able to get up and play it, and things unravelled from there for the Green Machine.
Raiders fans won’t agree with me, and you know what, that’s fair enough. I wouldn’t agree with the following sentence if it was my time who ended up in that mess.
But in the light of day, the decision turned the ball over 85 metres from the Roosters tryline. The defending premiers scored in the very next set.
Did the decision change the mental state of the Raiders? Yeah, probably, but if they had have done what they had done for most of the previous 70 minutes and made a tackle, the decision would be a non-issue, and we probably wouldn’t even be mentioning it this morning.
That doesn’t change the fact it was a howler of a decision, and will go down as the talking point in the match, but it should just be taken with a pinch of salt, is all that needs to be said.
It did lead to the second-best team on the night winning, but sometimes, that’s footy. More on the Roosters soon, but there is no guarantee that another set would have brought a Raiders try with it again, given they spent all that time on the attack and couldn’t find one, including that time against 12 players.
It didn’t cost the Raiders the game.
Oh, and just tacking onto the end of this point – the rule regarding the ball hitting a trainer needs to be looked at with an urgent review done.
So, it isn’t possible to go back-to-back
I’d ruled it impossible when the Storm failed to do it last year despite making it all the way back to the grand final, but apparently, it isn’t actually impossible to win two premierships in as many years.
The Roosters are now the living proof of that, but boy oh boy do you need to be good to do it.
There are so many reasons the second premiership is harder than the first. For starters, roster changes normally strike under the salary cap, then there is the fact that every other team is out to get you, as well as a pre-season trip to England and a shorter pre-season thanks to winning the grand final the year before.
It’s why the Storm making three in a row was miraculous enough over the last handful of years, even if they were only able to walk away with a solitary premiership.
But the Roosters have proven beyond all reasonable doubt that they are the best team of this era with last night’s victory.
And it’s the way they have gone about the finals series. They have been absolutely ruthless, belting the living daylights out of everyone with incredible footy.
Sure, their attack is good, but it’s their defence which has set them apart, with the club letting in just three tries across their three finals games, played against the other members of the top four.
That’s a miraculous stat, and while they didn’t win a minor premiership, Trent Robinson deserves a mountain of credit for the way he has timed his side’s run to another victory.
Now, the question is, can they do the three-peat?
Jack Wighton is a worthy Clive Churchill Medal winner
There will undoubtedly be questions over why the Clive Churchill Medal winner came from the losing side, however, at the end of the day, Jack Wighton was the best player on the better side.
The better side didn’t win the game of footy, but the selection panel got their decision right with Wighton.
Sure, James Tedesco was strong, the Roosters wingers phenomenal at both ends of the park and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was everywhere in the first 20 or so minutes of the game, but Wighton is the worthy winner here.
He had the Raiders try in the first half for himself with a lovely bit of work taking the line on, and looked dangerous multiple times throughout the game doing the same thing, while he ended with 97 metres, six tackle busts, a line break and defended well.
The Raiders attack has been clunky at times this year, and was again last night in the face of the best defensive line we have maybe ever seen in the NRL, but it wasn’t through a lack of trying from Wighton, who barely put a foot wrong in doing so.
Cooper Cronk will go down as one of the greats
This point more or less writes itself, but the retiring Cooper Cronk is going to go down as one of the greats of the game.
Not the greatest, but certainly one of the best, and he is going to leave a monstrous hole in Trent Robinson’s plans for 2020 and beyond.
While he wasn’t what you might consider a standout last night – there were very few of those on the Roosters side – he did his job for the most part.
But it’s the overall career which has to come under the microscope when you talk about the legacy Cronk is going to leave, with a staggering nine NRL grand finals, six of which he has won for a grand total of four legitimate premierships.
Nine grand finals means he has spent more seasons playing in grand finals than he hasn’t throughout his career, and while the argument could be made that he has played in the ‘best’ teams throughout his time in the sport, he is a big reason why they are the best teams.
Moving away from Melbourne was the best thing he could have done for his legacy. Doing it at another club, under another coach, and making everyone around him better was the way to do it, and for the last two years, that’s what Cronk has none.
With a minimal level of fuss, he has delivered two premierships in two years to Bondi, and that is the exact job he was signed to do.
Even when James Tedesco isn’t at his best, he is still great
Here’s a little secret that I don’t mind sharing, because frankly, it’s not really a secret like it was at this time last year. When I put together my top 50 players series of articles this week for publication in the following week, there is very little doubt who is going to come in at number one.
His name is James and he plays for the Roosters.
The fullback, who has been an integral part of the Roosters’ two premierships, and the New South Wales Blues’ last two Origin campaigns, is the best player in the game, and you can’t even form an argument to fight it.
And normally, he rises to the occasion of big games like few others in the competition.
But last night, something just felt a little bit off. He wasn’t quite as safe in the air, and he didn’t have his usual offensive punch until he scored the final try.
And yet, even without setting the world on fire like he normally tends to do, Tedesco came away with over 190 metres, a handful of tackle busts, and enough on the stat sheet to say he worried the Raiders when he had the footy in hand.
It’s incredible that he can end up with those metres without being a star on the park, but he adapted to the style of game and did what he needed to do to give his team a massive boost each time it was most-needed.
The Raiders will be a force to be reckoned with in 2020
While last night is going to sting for the Raiders, their staff, and their fans, once the pain subsides and a proper reflection of the season can be done, there is no question that in the grand scheme of things, it should be looked upon fondly.
Whether Raiders fans admit it now or not, this is well ahead of even the wildest expectations of the most optimistic fans coming into the season.
Sure, it would have been disappointing for fans of the men in green if they hadn’t made the top eight, but fighting for a spot in September was about where they expected to be.
Now, it’s critical that they build on the experience the last three weeks has given them, and start charging towards 2020 once the batteries are recharged.
A lesser team than the 2019 Raiders, or an older Raiders side, would have rolled over and been thumped last night after struggling through the first 20 minutes.
It’s those first 20 minutes which, when you sum up the Canberra season, can be used to show exactly how far Ricky Stuart’s men have come.
The end result of the grand final is going to burn for Canberra. There is no doubt about that, but they need to be able to use that as a driving force for the new season when it rolls around.
To use the pain, feeling and heartbreak of last night to surge into next season, where they should be able to keep most of their first-grad squad together and go close to finishing at the top end of town again.
Something is building in the nation’s capital, and this is just the beginning.
Roarers, what did you make of the NRL grand final? Drop a comment below and let us know.
Before I sign off, thanks for following this column all year. They are great fun to write and then defend in the comments, so I hope you have all got as much out of them as I have.
Until next year. (Or, the Nines and international footy, anyway).