Luke Keary pulled out his best performance of the year to fire the Sydney Roosters to a vital 34-16 win over the Brisbane Broncos that keeps the Chooks in pole position for the top eight.
It was a victory based on skill from Keary and courage from Victor Radley, who overcame a horrific cut to set the tone in defence and ball-play effectively in attack.
In just his third game back from a long period out with concussion symptoms, Keary was at the heart of everything good that his side did.
He laid on two tries, made several crucial contributions that might have led to more points and grabbed a deserved score of his own late to seal the win. Notably, he was back in the 6 jumper and playing as a pure five eighth.
Sam Walker, who took over the halfback role while Keary was out, did the bulk of the kicking, organising and set up work, with his partner empowered to create off in attacking shape.
James Tedesco, as ever, was also excellent, contributing 215m and producing a spectacular try assist that got the scoring going early on.
“We played fairly well tonight,” said Trent Robinson. “I felt we stifled them at different times and I felt like we dominated and played the way we wanted to play for 40-50 minutes there.
“On the field, these guys are coaching each other to get better. We’ve got more in us. It’s not up to us as coaches though. We decide how we’re gonna play but it’s those guys on the field nailing it.”
The Roosters desperately needed to win to continue their push for the finals, and while they will be happy to have got the two points that they needed, this was another showcase of some of the issues that means that they are fighting for a spot rather than cruising to the finals.
They produced moments of real quality but frequently struggled to hold the ball and presented opportunities to their opponents.
When the Roosters held onto the football, they rolled up the field with relative ease, but they made double the number of errors of their opponents.
Despite their profligacy with the ball, their defence was excellent and kept the Broncos very quiet. The average set distances for Brisbane hovered around 30m – very low by their standards – and was a testament to how effective Matt Lodge and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves were in stopping the go-forward.
Brisbane badly missed Pat Carrigan in the middle and though they got their usual big effort from Payne Haas, he lacked troops to go with him. Selwyn Cobbo, returning for his first game since Origin 3, was very quiet and managed just 56m with ball in hand.
Though the Broncos ended up the same number of runs as the Roosters, they managed over 400m fewer from their collective effort. They were monstered.
“Conceding points early is something we’ve got to get out of our game if we’re serious about where we want to head to,” said Kevin Walter.
“It’s a bit concerning it’s been happening for the last three or four weeks. We’re still learning, they’ve got a pretty experienced team there.
“We’ll learn from tonight, all of us will. Coaches included. We’ve got the artillery there, it’s just a matter of getting it right.”
The Roosters couldn’t have started much better. They rolled up the field with little resistance and, off the back of a Keary break, Tedesco tapped on smartly for Paul Momirovski to cross untouched.
Tesi Niu was struggling badly at the back, a fact that had not gone unnoticed by Walker. The halfback might have had an early try after a bad drop from Niu in his own in-goal, only for the bunker to deny him.
No matter, as Walker kicked again moments later, Niu made a meal of it and Nat Butcher got the putdown.
Keary then isolated Angus Crichton on Adam Reynolds for a third and just a quarter-hour in, a cricket score was on the cards.
The Roosters, however, have struggled to maintain intensity at times and did so again here. They lost a blod-stained Radley for 15 minutes for a head test in which time, Corey Oates got the visitors on the board.
That would be it for the scoring in the first half, though Brisbane looked more likely: Kotoni Staggs came closest but was held up by a combination of Terrell May and Daniel Tupou.
No sooner had the second half started than the Roosters repeated one of their tricks. Where it had been Crichton on Reynolds in the first half, this was Butcher on top of Ezra Mam for his second of the night.
Tupou then should have extended the lead further, only for Staggs to save the try with a late play at the arm. It paid out at the other end as Mam lofted a pass over the jamming Joseph Suaalii for Oates to get a second. It looked a fair bit forward, but the try stood.
Keary, again, struck back. This time he did it all himself, catching Kurt Capewell flat-footed in the defensive line and scooting around him to the line.
The Broncos second-row then managed to get one for himself, but it would be only a consolation, as Suaalii sent the SCG punters home happy with a try late to add gloss.