The Roosters survived a second half send off for Nathan Brown to defeat Manly 26-18, just about keeping their hopes of a run to the finals alive in the process.
Brown flew out of the line to land a shot on Ben Trbojevic, catching the backrower flush while off his feet.
Referee Ashley Klein showing no hesitation in sending him off. Amazingly, Brown had only entered the field 30 seconds before.
Trent Robinson was angered by the dismissal, questioning the severity of the tackle in relation to others seen in the NRL.
“You don’t want to see it, I don’t think it’s great for Ben, but there’s so much worse than that in the game – and that gets sent off?” he said.
“Guys have been heavily concussed from high tackles and all of that – nothing happened there tonight and he gets sent from the field.”
It had been an ill-disciplined game throughout: the Roosters were warned for persistent penalties in the first half and Tof Sipley was in the bin for Manly when Brown was sent off, having himself been sat down for repeated infringements.
Anthony Seibold said that the referee did not influence the result, but questioned his control over a game that contained 21 penalties and 13 set restarts.
“Credit to the Roosters, they won the physical battle tonight, there’s no doubt about that,” said the Manly coach.
“Most of the little contests in the game, whether a physicality thing or an effort thing, they won just about all of them.
“I was proud that the guys kept fighting hard at the end, but we weren’t where we needed to be to beat a good team.
“They came with a deliberate plan to take all the momentum out of the game. In the end, it was 14 penalties that the Roosters conceded.
“Our sixth penalty of the night was a yardage penalty on Tof Sipley and he gets sin binned. I understand the frustration with the amount, but at that stage the Roosters had given away ten and we’d given five. I wasn’t sure where that came from.”
22-2 at the time, but Manly were unable to fight back in time, though they scored three late to make it interesting.
Now, both sides in the same boat: Manly will need to win out from here to stand a chance, a situation that the Roosters were already in ahead of kick off.
One of the big storylines going into the game was the return of Matt Lodge, with the Manly prop facing off against a forward pack that, until a month ago, he was a member of.
Unfortunately, after just six minutes he clashed knees with Lindsay Collins, ending his night early. It was later confirmed as an ACL tear, heartbreaking for a player only earning $1000 a week on a train and trial deal.
It’s taken an awfully long time, but the Roosters seem to have found a combination that works out wide.
All four of Joseph Suaalii, Joseph Manu, Billy Smith and Daniel Tupou – twice – scored as the Chooks shredded Manly’s edge defence with a flair that has rarely been seen in 2023.
Their problems this year have been myriad, but if here was once diagnosis, it might be that they’ve often had a lot of square pegs in round holes.
A lot of that was of their own doing, of course. They shifted their best centre to play five eighth so their best five eighth could play halfback, while their best halfback played reserve grade, then got injured.
They insisted on playing Joseph Suaalii in the centres – presumably at the behest of the player himself – which removed a key cog from their set starts and turned their edge defence to mush.
Now, with the season gone, they might have hit upon their best option. Suaalii and Tupou are back on the wings with Manu and Smith inside them Tedesco out the back, allied to Luke Keary at 6.
It’s close to what they started last season with, and has been what Robinson has been aiming at pretty much ever since. A combination of injuries, poor choices and muddled thinking has stopped them getting that far, but now that they have, it does seem to work.
Manu and Suaalii are undeniably the best combo on the right edge, with Siua Wong given the chance to develop alongside them.
Smith is solid if unspectacular, but one of his better skills is his decision-making, particular when it comes to getting the ball to Tupou.
It won’t change the way the Chooks are travelling now, and likely they have far too much work left to do. It might not influence that much next season either, with Dom Young surely coming onto one of the wings for 2024.
But the dynamic might work, and Robinson might see it as something to focus on going forward.
Manly had all the pressure they could have asked for in the first half, but failed to trouble the scorers or, really, the Roosters. Lachlan Croker’s dummy half dart was as close as they came, a pitiful showing given the heap of good ball they enjoyed.
Some of that might have been expected. Their best footy has come from big men bending the line, then hitting the deck for the quick play the ball, but with Taniela Paseka, Josh Aloiai and Sean Keppie already out and Lodge departing in the opening ten minutes, that was never really an option.
One of Aaron Woods, Tof Sipley and Ethan Bullemor might get into the best rotation, but not all three, and for all of Jake Trbojevic’s qualities, line-bending runs are not one of them. He has the lowest metres per run in the NRL.
Without that penetration, it all became very pedestrian.
Josh Schuster didn’t run the football until his 16th touch of the footy, which came five minutes into the second half.
His strength is that he’s a five eighth in the body of a second rower, but if you never run the footy, it doesn’t matter how big you are.
Perhaps, after a year of experimentation and a shiny new Luke Brooks set to arrive, Schuster might go back to being a backrower with exceptional hands.
With the game gone, he suddenly sprung into life with a chip-chase try for himself and a kicked assist for Brad Parker. It was hard not to wonder where it had been hiding for the previous hour.