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Opinion

The Roosters are building an NRL dynasty with ruthless intent

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Expert
9th July, 2020
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If you had have asked me at half-time on Thursday night whether this column was going to be remotely positive about either the Roosters or the Cowboys, the answer would have been no.

The first 40 minutes were some of the worst we have seen this season. An absolute shambles for both sides, to put it nicely. Dropped balls, penalties, poor defence, dreadful attacking decisions – I was about ready to give up on the game and walk away.

But then the Roosters happened.

They clicked into gear like only the Tricolours can and ran away from the hapless Cowboys with a performance that was downright ridiculous.

It was men against boys as they poured on four tries in the first 12 minutes after half-time to go with the two in the final nine minutes of the first half.

That’s six tries in 21 minutes. Just like that the game was gone for the Cowboys, and whether they like it or not, the performance they dished up in defence wasn’t NRL standard.

Kyle Flanagan runs the ball

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Heck, it might not even have been reserve-grade standard. I would have been frustrated watching a junior team if they let in that many tries that easily, so you can only imagine what Paul Green was thinking as his side slumped to their second heavy loss in as many weeks.

Last week it was the right edge defensively that got ripped in half by Maika Sivo and the Parramatta Eels. Matt Ikuvalu, who didn’t even know he was playing until ten minutes before kick-off when Brett Morris went down, became the first Rooster in over 60 years to score five tries in a game.

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But the feat wouldn’t have been possible for the young winger without the clinical machine that was working across the park for the Roosters.

Joseph Manu continues to move into pole position for recognition as the game’s best centre. He may not have made as many metres in the clash with North Queensland, but he was brilliant in setting up Ikuvalu for a couple of his tries, dragging defenders, offloading, passing the ball perfectly and genuinely being an absolute nuisance to Connelly Lemuelu and Ben Hampton.

Then there was the absolute control of Luke Keary. His kicking game and support play to grab a double himself were brilliant, and his wonderful season continues. And of course, while he has stood up to replace Cooper Cronk, the influence of Kyle Flanagan can’t be understated.

James Tedesco had another ‘quiet’ game. Read: 236 metres from 21 runs, two try assists, two line-break assists, seven tackle busts and five offloads.

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And their forwards. I couldn’t count the number of times on two hands they had made 60 metres or more inside the first four tackles of their set. Every time you thought they were going to be under pressure after that first half-hour they found a way to put the Roosters on the attack.

Sio Siua Taukeiaho led the way, while the performance of Sitili Tupouniua off the bench proved it’s not just the stars who can lead the way for the Chooks.

Simply put, even with injuries – no Boyd Cordner, no Brett Morris, no Sam Verrills, no Daniel Tupou and no Victor Radley – they put on a destructive performance.

It was a rugby league clinic made even more impressive by the rebound from the slow start.

It does bring me to a theory, though, and that’s that slow starts in Townsville will become the norm. It takes teams time to warm to a game after spending three hours on an aeroplane. We saw it with the Knights a fortnight ago, and it wouldn’t surprise if it continued, even if the Cowboys struggle to win games.

One of the key factors you look for in any premiership side is ruthlessness and being able to hang in games when you’re not at your best. The ability to sink a losing team further into the earth, to play the full 80 minutes each week and turn up in defence when the going gets tough, as it was in Townsville.

All three factors were there to make up the buzzword for the Tricolours last night. They were pretty average early and even conceded the first try, but they never looked fazed.

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James Tedesco

(Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Helped by the Cowboys lack of ball control? Absolutely. But they got their defensive line set, overcame the differential of possession they faced early, ground their way back into the game and then, once they got on the scoreboard, went absolutely ballistic.

And instead of stopping after they had a few tries, it was anything but as they put the pedal to the metal, and they ended up scoring 40 points again.

That is the third time in nine games they have gone past 40, which is an impressive feat and continues to stamp a level of dominance over this competition.

I don’t love using the word ‘dynasty’, and maybe it shouldn’t be used after their tight loss to the Storm last week. They are still beatable, although it took one of the best performances in one of the best games of the modern era to do it.

But right now the Roosters are building something special. Two premierships is the beginning. Ruthless intent and a drive to win under Trent Robinson could make it three.

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There is a clear bridge between the top and bottom teams in this competition. It was there for all to see last night, and the way the Cowboys clocked off in defence, the assumption would be that pressure on Paul Green is only going to keep growing.

Maybe he will get a stay of execution because it was the Roosters after all, but when they can roll into Townsville and claim two competition points as easily as that the Cowboys boss is in trouble.

Big, big trouble.

But as for Robinson, he has players stand up from outside his core star group after a tough start and continues to have his side humming on all cylinders, and anything less than another trip to the grand final would be a surprise at this point.

It doesn’t matter which team are on the other side of the park. When you can turn it on like the Roosters did last night, you’re always a chance.

It’s going to take something very special to stop them.