Perhaps one the best NRL grand final performance ever? I can’t attest to anything I wasn’t alive for or don’t remember – but it was certainly the most dominating performance I’ve seen.
On 30 September 2018 the Sydney Roosters took on the Melbourne Storm in front of 82,000 people. Both teams finished at the top of the table for the regular season, with the Roosters finessing the Minor Premiership on the last game of the year.
Both clubs performed outstandingly in the preliminary finals, neither team looking like letting their seasons slip from beneath them.
There were two important circumstances which are necessary to mention prior to my actual thoughts on the game.
Slaters Controversial Shoulder Charge
The game before Melbourne’s Billy Slater faced the judiciary for what I thought to be a pretty clear shoulder charge (side note perhaps setting a bad precedent for the coming seasons). I can’t wait for the 2019 season where fullbacks are allowed to shoulder charge in high speed collisions in an attempt to save 4 pointers.
Despite how bad it was (or seemed), it was hard to imagine the NRL’s judiciary being impartial when it came to suspending the legend for his last game ever. Slaters green light to play was followed by criticism and controversy, but as a Roosters supporter – I wanted him to play so there was no doubt as to who the better team was on the day.
In the Preliminary Final Cooper Cronk injured his shoulder. There was great uncertainty in the lead up to the game, with a decision made not long before the Grand Final. Following the win, it was released that Cronk had fractured is scapular, an injury some players had been out for up to 6 weeks. Despite the significance of the injury, he managed to make 9 tackles without missing one, including a few that prevented tries or key line breaks.
Whilst I was very nervous due to the dominance of Melbourne combined with the emotion of Billy Slaters final game, after the first few sets from the Roosters I had a good feeling we would be lifting the trophy come 80 minutes.
There was a line break from Cordiner after about 2 minutes from a nicely timed short ball from Keary which forced Melbourne into delaying the play the ball – penalty – goal kicked by Mitchell.
A set or two later, Manu made a break down the short side, palming off two Melbourne defenders. A hit up by Auborson with a quick play the ball gave the Roosters enough time to get their offensive structures into place, where a nice double blocker play was actioned. On the second blocker, Keary was able to draw in both Croft and Chambers, floating a pass out to Toupo to score in the corner.
Backed up by solid defensive sets – the Roosters were looking in red hot form to take out the game.
It was only a few minutes later that another blocker play was run, however this time the Melbourne defence shifted well – the ball was given to Mitchell with space, who stepped back on the inside and palmed off Chambers to score the second try of the night. Mitchell converted his own try to make it 12-0 after 12 minutes.
Melbourne continued to make errors, whilst the Roosters maintained possession and continued to attack and defend well.
At the back end of the first half, the Storm gained some momentum with a Smith grubber for a repeat set. On the second set a bad pass from Croft led to Mitchell manhandling Chambers into touch – causing a bit of intensity and drama between the pair, something that seems to be fulfilled with every time they are on the field playing against each other.
After 29 minutes Munster was sin binned for a professional foul – delaying the play the ball after a break, something the referees were harsh on all year.
5 minutes later the Roosters went short and with the quick hands of Tedesco Manu scored in the corner – 18-0.
3 minutes in a line break was made by Maddison taking the Roosters into Melbourne’s 20. The Roosters quickly darted right with Keary providing a special offload resulting in Ferguson going over, however his foot was on the line (side note: apparently Ferguson broke his tibia on this play?).
On the 63 minute Keary through an intercept pass into Addo-Carr’s hands – probably the last person you’d like to have the ball with no one in front of them. Melbourne scored.
After, Keary slotted a field goal with a nice screen from Radley to make it 19-6.
Melbourne started to gather some momentum following the try, however the Roosters defence proved to be too strong. That momentum didn’t last long when in the 77th minute Munster kicked Manu on the head at the play the ball, where he was sent off for 10 for the second time of the night.
Another penalty kick was taken which called game.
The Roosters made 6 errors the entire game compared to Melbourne’s 14, completing 34 of 40 sets for 85%. Melbourne competed at 71%.
Keary took on the kicking role with Cronks arm injured – despite Cronk usually having these duties, which contributed to the Roosters having good field position.
Melbourne did not kick a bomb as a last play option the entire game, especially considering Fergusons patchy history under the high ball – if I was a coach I would have attacked this more.
The Roosters dominated the post contact metres, outscoring Melbourne by over 150 metres – the team also had 4 lines breaks to Melbourne’s 1.
Keary was the hero of the night, as Cronk played more of a on-field coaching role opposed to directly impacting the game. He was the difference maker, and with Manu and Mitchell having outstanding nights Keary was able to feed them the ball with space or take it right to the line forcing post contact metres and line breaks.
The entire back 5 of the Roosters was on fire, with a unexpected yet refreshing offensive and defensive performance of Manu. James Tedesco continued to prove he is a big game player, as he also showed earlier in the year in the State of Origin series.
Munster had a shocking night, which was quite unexpected. While the second sin bin was in garbage time when the Roosters had essentially won the game, the first one really strained Melbourne’s fitness – as with one less player on the field it forced the defence to work harder, resulting in a more fatigued offence.
The Roosters defence was out of this world – which was not out of the blue as they had the best defence for the year. Within the entire finals series – 3 games – they conceded only 3 tries (one of which was an intercept in the grand final).
An overall great performance and one to remember – perhaps setting up the 2019 season nicely.