There was so much at stake. For the Sydney Rooosters, their hopes of a three-peat were hanging by a thread. For Canberra, there was vengeance for last year’s grand final heartbreak.
Hounding Sydney’s middle third, Josh Papalii averted Boyd Cordner’s low tackle and willed his way over the line to draw first blood.
The Roosters’ lethargic start was compounded by a head-knock to Luke Keary, who survived a HIA and cheekbone scare to return to the field.
Sydney came agonisingly close to squaring the ledger, but when Josh Morris looked to put his outside-hand man Daniel Tupou over for an easy try, he was out of frame.
It was soon try-scorer Papalii in the thick of things again, his offload creating a breath-taking runaway try that extended Canberra’s lead to 12, with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad stepping past two, and the Steeden finding its way to ultimate finisher George Williams via Jordan Rapana.
The Raiders already had their tails up, and back-to-back set restarts was torture for Sydney. They paid the ultimate price, falling 16-0 down after Joseph Tapine delved deep into his bag of tricks, dodging and muscling what seemed like the entire Roosters team with a barnstorming run.
It was very nearly four unanswered Canberra tries, but their magic was cruelly denied: the Bunker finding that Rapana had jumped from outside the field of play to receive the ball he grubbered in a thrilling ad-lib sequence.
Begging for a spark, Sydney’s perilous spiral continued as they burnt their Captain’s Challenge looking to keep the ball at their own end.
After Brett Morris was brilliantly denied on the right side, his brother Josh produced that desired spark on the left, throwing a last-ditch banana kick on the outside of his boot that was plucked by a try-bound James Tedesco. It was huge lift for the Roosters, putting them within 10 points and giving them a sniff at the interim.
With a straight-sets exit, and potential death of a dynasty beckoning, the Roosters rallied in the second-half.
The sides traded ‘no-tries’, first Jack Wighton for Canberra, then Joseph Manu for Sydney, stopped short by desperate Raiders defence.
Manu broke the deadlock in the 57th minute, scooping up a wayward pass 30 metres out and opening the half’s scoring with a brilliant run, with questions of a double-movement quashed by the Bunker. Sydney were four points down in what was destined to be a nail-biter.
With a slender four-point lead, and Josh Morris zeroing in on the left corner, Nicoll-Klokstad iced his superb display with a Herculean try-saver. His heroics weren’t one-off brilliance, but a theme of his night, producing a similar stop on Brett Morris in the opposite corner, and succeeding as the last-line defender on numerous occasions. His efforts in attack were just as fruitful, running 276 metres.
Immense is an understatement when describing Nicoll-Klokstad's try-savers
Addicted to turning games, an opportunistic Jack Wighton try lifted Canberra further from the clutches of a surging Roosters outfit. George Williams’ rolling grubber left Tedesco wrong-footed, dumbfounded, and embarrassed in the in-goal as he could only watch Wighton pounce on the ball he overran.
Wighton involved in yet another crucial play
Having gifted the Raiders a try, Tedesco responded like a champion does: demanding the ball and crossing the stripe when his wish was granted, courtesy of Sonny Bill Williams’ pivotal offload, to cut the margin to 22-18.
Sydney threatened again, but a fateful Tedesco knock-on in his own half proved the sealer. A crucial Wighton run on the last tackle, and do-or-die Keary kick picked off by Cotric in the dying seconds, solidified a monumental win.
Canberra prevailed 22-18. Their revenge was truly complete, and the formidable Roosters dynasty culled.