The Sydney Roosters have become the first team to defend the premiership since 1992-93 after claiming a controversial 14-8 NRL grand final win over Canberra.
The Roosters, mocked by rival fans for a salary cap sombrero and even getting an endorsement from NRL boss Todd Greenberg this week for their roster management, are back-to-back premiers. They’re the first team to manage the feat in 26 years. Perhaps it won’t be done for another 26 years.
Derided for their glamour, this was won with huge amounts of grit and a massive dose – no doses – of good fortune.
It had to be James Tedesco who came up with the winning play, the Dally M and Brad Fittler Medal winner ranging up on the inside after a Daniel Tupou break to break Canberra hearts with seven minutes left.
The Roosters won 14-8 at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night. The scoreline barely told half the story.
Trent Robinson’s side scored just two tries, the first inadvertently helped by the fact the ball ricocheted off a Roosters trainer and the second on the ensuing set after referee Ben Cummins changed a six again call mid play.
It was the pivotal moment. Jack Wighton spotted Cummins signal a repeat a set and promptly ran the ball rather than kicking it as the Raiders peppered the Roosters line. But in between Cummins went back to the original last tackle call.
From the next set Latrell Mitchell sent Tupou scampering clear and he only had to have one peep over his shoulder for Tedesco, who capped one of the most memorable individual seasons in the history of the game.
It was horribly harsh on the Raiders, who fought back from 8-0 down early in the game and laid siege to the Roosters’ line for much of the second half.
Yet Ricky Stuart couldn’t quite end the Green Machine’s 25-year title drought as a coach which he started as a player.
In his last game and ninth grand final, Cooper Cronk was sent to the sin bin. Just as he coached his side to victory on the field in last year’s grand final, he delivered one last sermon as he trudged off the field as his team yielded just two points during his absence.
Fittingly, he fell on the ball to end the match. His teammates so exhausted from an entire night holding together the Bondi wall they could barely rise from the turf to celebrate on full-time. The ultimate rugby league robot will now shimmy into the NRL sunset with another one of his own as well as a shoulder blade immortalised in rugby league history, even if he’s eventually not.
For all of Trent Robinson’s foibles, what can’t be faulted is his implicit faith in his senior players. Jake Friend hadn’t played for almost three months and hadn’t completed 80 minutes since round one, but he started from the bench and replaced Zane Tetevano. Robinson pulled a similar trick with Boyd Cordner before the 2013 decider. It worked then and it worked now.
Mal Meninga sounded the horn at the southern end of ANZ Stadium to start the Viking clap, but there was an even bigger (up)roar soon after the game started.
It’s hard to beat the Roosters when they have 13 men, it’s almost impossible when they have 13 man and a trainer.
Travis Touma will go down in grand final folklore for nothing more than minding his own business, a Luke Keary kick rocketing off Sia Soliola’s head and into the NSW physio 10 metres behind play. Why he needed to be standing there? Who knows.
But under the rules of the game the ball is awarded to the attacking team for a scrum feed. It just happened the Raiders didn’t touch the ball again before Sam Verrills, whose place in the side was shrouded in mystery all week, scurried over for the first try.
Latrell Mitchell added a penalty goal to extend the Roosters’ lead after Joe Tapine felled Victor Radley high, only for Wighton to crash over 10 minutes later on the back of a rare Tedesco error.
They Roosters lost Mitchell Aubusson to injury and were another man down – albeit temporarily – when Jarrod Croker levelled the match with a penalty goal after Cronk’s indiscretion on Josh Papalii, who bit down on the back of his mouthguard to play 55 minutes straight.
Then came the changed call. Then came Tedesco. Then came back-to-back premiers.
The cap fits perfectly.