Defending champions Sydney Roosters bounced back from an 0-2 start in the oldest rivalry known to rugby league. It wasn’t an issue of getting their hands on the footy for South Sydney, as they narrowly led the possession count and completed more sets, but rather how they used it. The Roosters key men – Tedesco, Keary and Friend – simply had a much bigger impact than their opposing numbers.
The Roosters got off to a flying start. Keary placing his chip kick centimetre perfect, falling right on the goal line. Daniel Tupou timed his run from the wing with precision, using his height advantage to win out in the 2 on 1 contest and take the ball to ground in the in-goal. Giving the Roosters a six point advantage by the third minute.
The Roosters definitely had the wood over Souths in the opening stages. Utilising short passes and quick play the balls when attacking, and gang tackles when defending.
Sydney very nearly ran away with a two try lead if it wasn’t for the defence of heavily scrutinised ex-Rooster Latrell Mitchell. Tupou offloaded and put Keary into space, if Mitchell came at him, he could’ve put the grubber through with no full back home for an easy try.
Instead Mitchell waited, running back with Keary. He was turned inside out but recovered to stick a try saving tackle.
This play serving as redemption for Mitchell minutes after he carelessly knocked on whilst roaming all alone at full back. The new position he’s adapting to with some promise.
Souths had a done a good job limiting the Roosters to one try for all their dominance, but their persistence led to a deserved 12 point lead.
Josh Morris found Tupou on the wing who made a good run before being caught and looking back in to Morris. Morris kept running and sent a perfectly weighted grubber under the sticks in open space for Flanagan to run onto and finish off.
It was soon Josh's brother Brett in the thick of the action, producing an all-time great defensive set. Bunny Braidon Burns intercepted a Rooster pass in his defensive 20 and took off downfield. Morris put in the hard yards chasing down Burns and forcing him to offload to Johnston before springing off Burns and tackling Johnston.
Brett Morris completing his gutsy double tackle play
Taking down both ball carriers and performing a double tackle. His heroics didn’t stop there either, taking care of a potentially try scoring grubber to almost single-handedly save Sydney from a very threatening Rabbitohs set.
Morris couldn’t do it all though, the Rabbitohs scrapping hard and inching back into the contest.
Latrell Mitchell expertly created space with a double pump pass, leaving Cameron Murray to run in and score. The Rabbitohs trailing 12-6 heading into half time and earning a bit of momentum.
The Bunnies fightback would be shortlived, Tedesco individually creating a try out of nothing. From almost a standstill start, he broke through a Murray and Dragan tackle – which is no easy feat – exposing a one on one contest with opposing full back Latrell Mitchell. The damage was already done, the momentum taking both Tedesco and Mitchell over the line for a Roosters try minutes after the break.
Tedesco scoring a great solo try against fellow No. 1 and ex-teammate Mitchell
It wouldn’t take long for Sydney to strike again. Luke Keary running outside and passing to Cordner who ran back in, breaking the Rabbitohs line crashing through for their second try in six minutes.
In a further blow for South Sydney, Bayley Sironen was taken out for a Head Injury Assessment. His replacement Liam Knight leaving the ground suffering the same fate not long after.
Cook hit Murray who hit Burgess who burst through for a try, cutting the margin to ten and giving Bunnies fans plenty to cheer for.
It was a case of never say die for South Sydney, the scent of victory faint but not lost. They
started looking dangerous and forced scrambled Roosters defence more than once.
The new captain’s challenge may have just been the Rooster’s saving grace. It was saved until the dying stages of the game and used when they needed it most, overturning a South Sydney penalty and giving them a chance to breathe and close out the game.
With five minutes left on the clock, the Rabbitohs had seemingly succumbed to their fate. With the ball in their defensive 20 they showed no urgency – most notably when Latrell Mitchell took his time getting out of the ruck – and let the Roosters come off their lines to smother them.
Jake Friend sealed the fate of the game, catching full back Latrell Mitchell out of position and capitalising on the subsequently vacant in-goal area. Chasing down his own grubber and opening the Sydney Roosters account for 2020.
Inspired by James Tedesco and co, the Sydney Roosters finished commendable 28-12 victors over their long time rival, having outplayed South Sydney for most of the night.
One of the key talking points leading into the clash was Latrell Mitchell, and how he would perform in his contentious new role at full back against his old side. Whilst he made some clumsy errors and at time showed his inexperience, he created tries and laid crucial tackles, leaving plenty for South Sydney fans to be excited about in 2020 and beyond.