The out of form Sydney Roosters only just managed to get out of jail against a fast finishing Rabbitohs outfit last night, remaining in Top 4 territory on the NRL ladder with a 22-20 win over the Bunnies at Sydney Football Stadium on Friday night.
After losing their last 3 games on the trot, the Roosters could have slumped to as low as 7th on the NRL Ladder had they lost again and the three teams below them all won.
With playmakers halves Mitchell Pearce and Braith Anasta pulling the strings, the Roosters scored the first five tries to lead 22-0 shortly after the break.
The Rabbitohs, who have produced several stirring, come-from-behind wins in the second half of the season, almost pulled off another miracle.
They piled on 20 unanswered points in the second half after tries to fullback Nathan Merritt five-eight John Sutton, hooker Issac Luke and winger Luke Capewell.
The potential game-tying conversion by halfback Chris Sandow, from close to the left hand touchline, cannoned off the left hand upright.
Roosters veteran Craig Fitzgibbon landed just one of his five kicks, though the one he did make was his 600th for the club.
Desperate to regain some winning form, the Roosters looked well on the way to achieving their aim as they bolted to a 14-0 halftime lead.
They scored three first half tries through winger Amos Roberts, centre Mitchell Aubusson, and second rower Anthony Tupou, though there was a suspicion of a forward pass in the leadup to the first two four-pointers.
Young halfback Pearce, who had looked a little lacklustre in recent weeks, looked more threatening, especially in the first half.
He set up the first try in the 14th minute with a kick which centre Setaimata Sa knocked back to hooker James Aubusson, who passed to Roberts.
The slippery winger was given the all clear by video ref Bill Harrigan after squeezing over in the right hand corner, though it appeared there might have been a forward pass earlier in the move, which also featured some great handling by Anasta and Willie Mason.
Five-eighth Anasta set up both of the Roosters other tries with pin-point passes.
His perfectly floated pass put Aubusson over in the 32nd minute and he then drew two defenders to put Tupou over in the final minute of the half.
The Roosters missed a number of other chances to build an even bigger lead, but poor passing and handling let them down.
The Rabbitohs looked sharp in the early minutes, but couldn’t capitalise on a couple of half chances midway through the half.
The Roosters appeared to have an unassailable lead ten minutes into the second half after further tries to fullback Sam Perrett and Anasta.
By they couldn’t sustain their dominance and tired in defence against an energetic Souths side sparked by Sutton.
He set up Merritt for his 12th try of the season and scored the next himself after Perrett dropped the ball in his in goal area.
Luke scampered through some fatigued defence for a solo try and Capewell crossed inside the last five minutes to set up the dramatic climax.
Souths almost pulled of a 40-20 kick in the final minute to give them possession close to the line, but Harrigan ruled against it.
Roosters coach Brad Fittler was a relieved man after his side almost squandered a 22-0 lead.
“We weren’t at our best but there were better signs. We win next week we’re in a top four position, so we’ve got everything to play for,” Fittler said.
“We worked really hard for the first 50 minutes … we didn’t get much ball for the last 30 minutes.”
Fittler revealed Anasta, who was captain tonight, would hold the position for the remainder of the season and would replace regular skipper Craig Fitzgibbon.
“One of the reasons was I was working on giving the back three a spell, I knew Fitzy was going to be on the sideline at stages,” Fittler said.
He said he wanted Anasta, who captained virtually all of his teams up until he broke into first grade with the Bulldogs, to have a bigger say in the game plan.
The Roosters led 14-0 at halftime following tries to winger Amos Roberts, centre Mitchell Aubusson and second-rower Andrew Tupou.
Further tries to Perrett and Anasta gave the Roosters a seemingly unassailable lead but the Rabbitohs produced another of their trademark comebacks.
Five-eighth John Sutton set up a try to fullback Nathan Merritt and scored one himself, while hooker Issac Luke scampered through some fatigued defence and winger Luke Capewell crossed inside the last five minutes to set up the dramatic climax.
Sandow’s potential match-tying conversion cannoned off the left-hand upright.
“The boys played with a lot of character in the whole game, we really tried hard for the 80 minutes and there was a lot of effort in everything we did,” Taylor said.
“The scoreline at halftime didn’t reflect the commitment that we played with.
“There was one soft try just before halftime which was disappointing, but the other tries, there was a bit of luck in them, I felt the first try should have been given no-try and there was a clear knock-on before they got to that position.
“I felt we were unlucky to be 14-0 down at halftime and then in the end we were unlucky not to get it to at least extra time.”
Taylor said he didn’t get a look at the possible 40-20 kick from halfback Sandow in the closing seconds, but thought as there were only about 15 seconds remaining at the time, that the Rabbitohs would have needed a “miraculous” play to win the match.
Fittler was relieved the 40-20 ruling had gone in his side’s favour.
“It was hard to think at the end of the game whether I was happy or cranky but I think I was happy when he (referee Steve Lyons) called it a non 40-20.”
SYDNEY ROOSTERS 22 (B Anasta M Aubusson S Perrett A Roberts A Tupou tries C Fitzgibbon goal) bt SOUTH SYDNEY 20 (L Capewell I Luke N Merritt J Sutton tries I Luke C Sandow goals) at Sydney Football Stadium. Referee: S Lyons. Crowd: 18,127.