The Roosters overlooked for State of Origin were the keys to an upset win over the Parramatta Eels last night, as Braith Anasta, Mark O’Meley and Mitchell Pearce all stood up to get their team home in a comprehensive display.
Overlooked for the NSW five-eighth position on Tuesday, with Blues selectors opting for Cronulla lack Greg Bird, Anasta produced a match-turning performance in his stand-in captaincy role to lead the Roosters to a 32-12 upset of the Eels at Parramatta Stadium.
Anasta scored two tries, threw the final pass for two more and provided the pinpoint cross-field kick in another in one of his finest attacking displays this year.
Adding satisfaction to Anasta’s stunning display was the fact Blues selector and Channel Nine commentator Laurie Daley was sitting on the sideline with a perfect view of the performance.
Not only that, but Daley then had the awkward duty of handing Anasta the man of the match award.
“I didn’t really have a point to prove to anyone apart from myself,” Anasta told Channel Nine.
With virtually their entire forward pack missing – Willie Mason, Anthony Tupou, Craig Fitzgibbon and Nate Myles all on Origin duty – it was rejuvenated former Test prop Mark O’Meley that led the way up front with Anasta feeding off the Roosters superior momentum.
The Roosters had trailed 8-6 at half time but a blockbuster start to the second period put the under-manned visitors in total control.
Anasta’s inside pass put New Zealand Test centre Sia Soliola over in the 42nd minute before Mitchell Pearce nailed a 40-20 off their next set to give the Roosters another attacking chance.
Again it was Anasta who provided the assist, taking the ball to the short side before giving it to another Kiwi Test centre in Setaimata Sa to barge over and give the Roosters an eight point lead just six minutes after the break.
Anasta then put the nail in the coffin by pouncing on Mitchell Pearce’s chip kick to score his second try in the 55th minute and all but seal his post-match honour.
He struck again with a well-timed kick for Brent Grose to extend the lead in the 68th minute before late tries to Eels winger Joel Reddy (72nd minute) and an intercept for Roosters half Pearce (77th minute) completed the result.
Earlier Eels half-back Brett Finch made his own point to Blues selectors for his snubbing by throwing a three-man 20m cut out pass for Eric Grothe to score untouched in the 18th minute and open the scoring.
Anasta responded to Finch’s challenge by stepping his way past his former teammate in the 27th minute to help level scores 6-all.
Adding to Parramatta’s dreadful night is the recurrence of a knee injury to luckless centre Ben Smith, with Eels officials hopeful scans won’t confirm he requires surgery on his right leg for the second time in two years.
Anasta later said the win was “awesome”.
“The start of the week was tough,” he said, referring to newspaper reports NSW players lacked faith in his ability.
“I’m just used to it by now.
“(But) getting the captaincy for the Roosters really turned it around for me, that is one of the biggest honours for me.
“I did not feel I had to prove anything to anyone. I have been comfortable with my form all year.”
The rumours about Anasta’s lack of support stemmed from the NSW Country team camp where Daley was coach and Anasta hesitated when asked if his post-match had been awkward before responding, “no, not at all.”
Roosters prop O’Meley said Anasta had nothing left to prove to his knockers and couldn’t fault his teammates response to hardship.
“I don’t mind if he gets kicked in the teeth if he plays like that,” O’Meley said.
Eels coach Michael Hagan meanwhile was left dejected as his side slumped to their third successive loss at home this year.
“We could not have started the second half any worse,” Hagan said.
Eels captain Nathan Cayless was almost inconsolable but says Parramatta must find a way to resurrect their year during their second bye next week before travelling to Brisbane in round 12.
“Some of the tries we gave up were a little bit soft and we just did not put in enough effort to win the game,” he said.