Oops: Gareth Widdop kicks the ball ahead to score a try after a fumble by Latrell Mitchell. Photo: Mark Metcalfe Regretful: Latrell Mitchell looks dejected after a Dragons try. Photo: Mark Kolbe
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Rookie errors literally cost Sydney Roosters in the annual Anzac Day clash with St George Illawarra but the return of their stars in coming weeks may be too late to save the club’s season after suffering a seventh loss from the opening eight rounds.
With Mitchell Pearce and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves looking on ahead of their eagerly anticipated comebacks next weekend against Newcastle, the Roosters were their own worst enemies as they gifted the Dragons an 18-0 half-time lead that proved too big to claw back — although only just.
The Roosters did not concede a second half try in a spirited display led by debutant Ryan Matterson, but their 20-18 defeat has left them needing to beat the Knights at Allianz Stadium next Saturday just to climb off the bottom of the ladder, while they are now six points out of the top eight.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson and his players will know that it is not an impossible task to make the finals after last year having just three wins from their opening nine matches before going on to claim a third successive minor premiership and there were some encouraging signs of what Matterson and teenage fullback Lattrel Mitchell can bring to a team with experienced players around them. However, it is still a big ask as the Roosters are likely to need to win 11 of their remaining 16 matches to scrape into the final eight
Boyd Cordner is likely to have little recollection of his first game back from an off-season pectoral muscle tear after being concussed in a 78th minute head clash.
The incident was one of several bizzare and controversial incidents that occurred in what can genuinely be described as a game of two halves played by two teams desperate for a win after a disappointing start to the season. While a 50th minute penalty goal for what appeared to be a questionable late tackle call against Kane Evans over a shot that forced Dragons hooker Mitch Rein from the field for the remainder of the match was all that separated the two teams, St George Illawarra now have four wins from eight matches.
If Dragons coach Paul McGregor has any cause for concern over his team’s performance it should be the fact that all three first-half tries were the result of errors by inexperienced Roosters players.
The first came in the 21st minute when Mitchell put down a towering bomb by English five-eighth Gareth Widdop and the St George Illawarra captain toed the ball ahead to score. The Dragons second try came five minutes later after Widdop put a crossfield chip kick behind Brendan Elliot into the Roosters in-goal and veteran winger Jason Nightingale and off-season recruit Tim Lafai raced through to simultaneously get a hand on the ball and scored.
Matterson, who was a key player in the Roosters second half comeback, then threw an intercept pass for Dragons winger Kalifa Faifai Loa to race 65 metres and score in the 39th minute. “If we didn’t let all those tries in we wouldn’t have to chase points and we could have won the game,” Roosters centre Blake Ferguson said.
However, it wasn’t just the errors from their rookies that led to St George Itries which hurt the Roosters so badly. They completed just 10 of their 17 first-half sets — an error rate that barely improved in the second half as they finished the match with a 65 per cent completion rate from 37 sets.
While they showed grit to keep the Dragons tryless in the second half and some enterprising play resulted in tries to Mitchell, Matterson and captain Jake Friend, some of the decision making wouldn’t have pleased Robinson.
In particular, halfback Jackson Hastings opting to run the ball himself and being held up over the tryline in the 65th minute with a three man overlap to his right and Mitchell passing over the sideline five minutes earlier.
The Roosters also gave St George Illawarra the ball back from two second half kick offs and put themselves under pressure by conceding eight penalties to four, including infringements that led to Sam.Moa (shoulder charge), Eloni Vunakece (crusher tackle) and Dylan Napa (high tackle.
Evans will also come under scrutiny from the match review committee for the tackle on Rein that led to a heated exchange between Friend and referee Ben Cummins before Widdop kicked the match-winning penalty goal.
“If you slow it down like that it looks awful,” Friend said as the tackle was replayed on the big screen.
“It has been identified as late,” Cummins told him, prompting the Roosters captain to say: “How late. Just because he hit him hard doesn’t mean it is late”.
However, the Dragons hooker left the field for a concussion test and was unable to return.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.